“With wings on our heels…”

Running along the beach at St Andrews Scotland has never been quite the same since, neither can anyone run for a bus without hearing the Vangelis theme, mind, if you tried to run across the eighteenth green like they do you’d be up before the committee in no time at all.

Everyone knows the story of the 1924 Olympics, or at least they know the story from the four Academy Award winning film, the story that Colin Welland took a few theatrical liberties with, its the story of Harold Abrahams a Cambridge University student who is subjected to anti-Semitism but can run very fast and so uses his athletic abilities to earn friends and influence the sort of people who went to Cambridge in those days, rich people, sons of Lords, that sort of influential people, Abrahams himself came from a wealthy family, his father was a city financier.

Eric Liddell was the son of Scottish missionaries plying their trade in China, Liddell and his younger brother were sent back to England at a very young age to attend boarding school and then University paid for by their church, for the rest of their childhood the boys only saw their parents two or three times but Liddell was fixated by the ideal of running for his God and eventually after the 1924 Olympics he returned to China to continue his fathers missionary work.

They were both selected to run in the 100 metres race but as it was to be run on a Sunday Liddell withdrew on religious grounds, instead he ran in the 400 metres which wasn’t a distance that he favoured – both Liddell and Abrahams won the Olympic gold medal in their events.

It makes for a great Olympic story if a little construed for the cinema, for instance Liddell didn’t find out about the Sunday venue at the last minute as he was boarding the ferry for France as shown in the film for the timetables were issued four months beforehand, Liddell was pressurised into running on the Sunday but refused and was eventually given the 400 metres and had several weeks in which to prepare for that distance rather than just a couple of days as depicted.

The film also has a character named Lord Andrew Lindsey who was based on the real Olympian Lord Burghley, eventually to become chairman of the London Olympic Committee of 1948, but Lord Burghley was still alive in 1981 when the film was made and having read the script refused to let his name be used as it was full of inaccuracies, specifically the scene that depicts the race around the Great Court at Trinity College while the clock strikes twelve – it was Burghley who first did the race but on his own and not against Abrahams as depicted in the film, in fact Abrahams never attempted the feat.

In the film Lindsey is shown to be giving up his place in the 400 metres so that Liddell could compete in at least one event, in reality the real life Burghley was never selected for the 400 meters in 1924 although he did win gold in 1928 at that distance.

In 1925 Eric Liddell travelled to China to serve at the Tianjin missionary that his parents had founded, in 1943 after the invasion of China by Japan he was imprisoned and died in 1945 from a brain tumour. Harold Abrahams went on to have a career as a sports journalist and one of the first BBC athletic commentators, he was also the official timekeeper at the event where Roger Bannister became the first man to break the four minute mile, he died in 1978, aged 78.

And the phrase “Chariots of Fire” ?

Its not, as many northern rugby league sorts believe named after the Widnes and Wigan winger and tormentor of Leeds in so many forgetable contests, Martin “Chariots” Offiah at all, but a line in a William Blake poem put to music by Sir Edward Elgar, that tune became known as “Jerusalem” and some would say should be our national anthem to replace the dreary dirge that is , well, the national anthem – so here to compare the two is one year at The Proms in Royal Albert Hall, Jerusalem followed by Bettys Song…

The song Jerusalem is dedicated to my old class pals at Leeds Modern School, Patrick Stewart, Tim Knowles, Chris Miller, David Hay, Rodney Emmot, Vaz, erm, Vaz, Mick Gamble and of course in a far distant land in a far distant time zone, Pete Waters, for we have stood in that assembly hall and we have sung this song under dire threat of being pulled out of said hall by the sideburns by the dastardly Weber, a man who knew no joy and who lived with the ridiculous belief that every boy in the land could play at least one bar of music on a recorder and make it sound like he really meant it to be that way.

Bring on the Games…

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