Olympic champion in 1924 in Paris, Eric Liddell entered the legend thanks to the film Chariots of Fire: his daughter Patricia Russell recalls in an interview her memories of an athlete who sacrificed glory to his convictions but “was not a bigot”.

A fervent Christian, this Scotsman gave up competing in his favorite event, the 100m, so as not to have to run the heats on a Sunday, in contradiction with the prescriptions of religion.

This dilemma, the vain efforts of the British delegation to change his mind, the victory of his compatriot and rival Harold Abrahams are at the heart of Hugh Hudson’s film, rewarded with four Oscars including that of best film in 1982.

“He was more of a liberal Christian, but he did not want to betray his principles for a gold medal,” explains Patricia Russell in a telephone interview given to AFP from her home near Toronto.

“I think if we had persuaded him to participate, he would have won, but it would have been heartbreaking because he would have run thinking he had sold his soul,” continues this former nurse, still warm and alert at 88 years old.

A few days later, Liddell won gold in the 400m and then bronze in the 200m, two events that did not require him to run on Sunday. Long later, his mother presented these medals on behalf of the family to Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth, who was then honorary president of the University of Edinburgh.

Patricia Russell was only six years old when she last saw her father, but her memories remain vivid. If the epic of 1924 was told to her by others, she distinctly remembers another race, much less famous but just as significant for her, which took place in the early 1940s in China, where her father served as a missionary. .

“It was a race in which parents and children participated and we had to win hands down because I was quite fast too,” she says. I didn’t pass it on to him, because it was a pretty handkerchief that I didn’t want to part with.

His indulgent father used the incident to remind him of the importance of “teamwork.” “These are things that stay,” adds Patricia Russell, who herself had three children.

Another memory dear to his heart: the summer of 1940, the last one spent with his family, in Scotland, in Carcant, because his father would then be detained by his missions in China. With her mother Florence, Canadian, and her sister Heather, she had braved the dangers of crossing the ocean infested with German submarines.

“I remember that Carcant was full of rabbits. As we wandered around the hills he managed to catch one – can you imagine what speed that must have been! – then he said: ‘There will be rabbit pie for dinner,’ she recalls. Heather burst into tears. So my dad promised he wouldn’t do it again and instead he invented a game: try to put salt on the rabbit’s tail! We never succeeded.”

Patricia Russell also cannot forget the attack by a U-boat on their convoy of fifty ships during the return trip. “I saw five boats sink. I wanted us to help the castaways but my father said it was too risky.

In 1941, as Japanese pressure on China increased, a pregnant Florence and her daughters returned to live in Canada. Liddell was interned by the Japanese in a camp from which he could only send letters of 25 words, severely censored.

On May 1, 1945, Patricia Russell learned of her father’s death (from a brain tumor). “When I got home there was a terrible silence. When my mother said ‘dad is dead’, I screamed ‘no, no, no, it’s a mistake’. “It was a few days before the victory, the world was celebrating.”

“Years later, I met people who had been around my father at camp as children. They told me that his presence had changed their lives. It did me good to know that he had been loved there too, but what a huge loss!”, she concludes.