The real story behind “Chariots of Fire”


There are plenty of films out there that touch you and affect you in numerous ways. There are so many wonderful examples of great movies, and stories that have stayed with us throughout the years. But, there are few films as iconic and moving as the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. The film follows two athletes who win gold medals for Great Britain at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

The movie was hugely successful upon release and won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Considered a seminal film, Chariots of Fire is still popular today, and the themes of the movie are as relevant today as they were upon its release. We look at the real story behind the legendary movie, and the people who were involved in the journey.

The real story behind “Chariots of Fire”

The men involved

The film follows the characters of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, two men with different motivations. Abrahams runs to combat anti-Semitism, while Liddell runs to glorify God and his religion. In reality, the characters, their names, and their achievements are as depicted in the movie. Abrahams attended Cambridge from 1919 to 1923 and was a keen runner right away. Just after graduating, he employed Sam Mussabini as a coach, who improved his style and technique, and helped to make him a champion. He won 100 meters gold in Paris, as well as silver in the 4x100m relay.

Eric Liddell was the son of Scottish missionaries and had planned to return to China as a missionary after attending University in Edinburgh. Liddell was a devout Christian and said that he ran because he wanted to honor God. During the 1924 Games, he attracted global attention and controversy after refusing to run in a race because it was held on a Sunday. Instead, he ran in the 400 meters, clinching the gold medal, after claiming the bronze in the 200 meters a few days prior.

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The real story behind “Chariots of Fire”

The Games

The actual events that occurred in the movie do contain a fair amount of accuracy.
However, as you would imagine, there is a degree of artistic license taken with the movie. For instance, the famed Great Court Run, which Abrahams achieved was actually a fictional feat engineered for the movie – and was actually shot at Eton, not Cambridge.

It is also true that Liddell refused to run the 100m on religious grounds; he also received quite the grilling from the British Olympic Committee. But, as the race schedules were released months in advance he had plenty of time to plan his switch, so it didn’t go down in the dramatic ‘team mate switching with me at the last minute’ way that it went down in the movie!

There are some historical inaccuracies in the film, but, then again, it is a movie, so there is plenty of scope for changing things for dramatic effect. The fact remains that the film captures the essence of the 1924 Olympics, and the remarkable achievements of these two men, very well. It is an enjoyable, moving, and iconic film, and one that deserves to be rediscovered.

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The real story behind “Chariots of Fire”