ERIC LIDDELL'S family was about to board the boat from China to Japan when the former Olympic champion spoke to his six-yearold elder daughter. "Patricia, " he said, "you must look after yourmother, and the new baby, until I come home . . ."

The man who had won Olympic 400 metres gold in 1924 remained in China, working as a missionary just like his parents. Riding round on his bike, he hid money in bread rolls, smuggling it formissionary work, tending typhoid victims, and once saving an execution victim at the risk of his own life.

His pregnant Canadian wife, Florence, returned with her two daughters to Toronto. Soon after the new baby's arrival, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Liddell was confined in Weifang camp along with other British and US expatriates, and died there of a brain tumour in 1945, just before liberation.

Now 70, Patricia reflected this week on that moment of parting: "Of course, he never did come home . . . and in the last 10 years of my mother's life, when she lived with me, I had this compulsion to look after her. It's amazing what settles in a child's mind."

Liddell's grave was marked with a plain wooden cross, his name written in boot polish.

Decades later, the gravedigger was traced. A headstone of Mull granite was erected in 1991.

Yet figuratively, Scotland's best-known athlete is coming home. He has always remained in his nation's heart, embraced by a wider public since the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, recounting the Paris Olympics.

Tomorrow, he and the 1980 Olympic 100m champion, Allan Wells, become inaugural inductees of the Scottish Athletics Hall of Fame, in a ceremony at Scotstoun during the Commonwealth Games trials.

Patricia Russell, the eldest of Liddell's three daughters, will accept his induction. It couldn't be in better company. When Wells won Moscow gold, first Brit since Harold Abrahams 56 years earlier to have taken the Olympic 100m title (also in Paris) and first athletics Scot to win a title since Liddell, Wells was asked if he had thought of Abrahams on crossing the line.

With a warning wink to the Scots who were present, Wells said: "No, I was thinking about Eric Liddell, actually."

Liddell has reached farmore widely than inspiring Wells, and more profoundly than as catalyst for Chariots of Fire.

"It's amazing the way my father's life has rippled on, " said Mrs Russell, "but the real story is after the Olympics, though that is what made him well-known. He loved to run, but when they tried to get him to compete at the next Olympics, he said his life had moved on. He said he had more important things to do."

She confides that she has been discussing a screenplay with a friend, Murray Watts.

There will be no need for the harmless fiction of Chariots.

"We were very apprehensive about Chariots of Fire, but they did a magnificent job. If a sequel about the other aspects of my father's life were done now, we'd be quite happy."

Liddell's sister, Jenny, had no complaint about the original film, but felt it had portrayed her as "a proper prig".

Inmates of the internment camp at Weifang need no embellishment. They included the elderly, children separated from their parents, wealthy oil and business executives and their families, a touring jazz band trapped by hostilities, and a white Russian prostitute.

The Edinburgh University BSc wrote a chemistry book for the camp children, inscribing inside the cover: "The bones of Inorganic Chemistry. (Can these dry bones live? )".

He became a surrogate dad to abandoned kids, one of whom, David Michell, became a minister. He recalls Liddell mixing glue from fish bladders and scales to mend hockey sticks so that games could be played, and doing so by night, sparing inmates the smell.

The man who declined on Sabbatarian grounds to run the 100m at the Olympics refereed kids' football on Sundays. He also mixed coal dust with clay to make briquettes for the elderly.

The wealthy attempted to massage theirway through the warwith gin, whisky, and extra food smuggled in. Liddell shamed them into sharing.

The prostitute was turfed out of her dormitory by the other women. When Liddell put up a shelf for her, she said he was the only man ever to have done her a favour without seeking other favours in return.

"I was always aware of what he had done, but to us he was just our father, " said Patricia. "I remember him. I was sixwhen we left. He said it was too dicey to stay in China. We left in May 1941. I was 10 when he died.

"The only contact we had was Red Cross letters, 25words.

He had to be careful what he said. Sentences were blacked out. They thought they contained some special message."

She is glad she was not raised as "something special".

"That would have been a pain in the neck, " she said. "We were just a regular family."

Though Canadian, she has "a great affection for Scotland, where I spent happy times as a child, at Carcant, near Bonnyrigg".

A former nurse, married to a Methodist minister, she has done voluntary work in the Caribbean, but her conversation reflects a sensible, balanced Christianity: "I get anxious when certain extreme religious groups want to pin their label to him."

She will feel "a bit of a fraud this weekend. I'm just the daughter . . . he would be overwhelmed by the attention."

Liddell's daughters were all good at sport, but as she grew up in Ontario: "they didn't develop girls' sport".

Yet his legacy survives. At the Canusa (Canada vUSA)Games, between Ontario and Michigan, this year, the same girl won the under-13 400, 800 and 1500 metres. "All the grandchildren are good at sport, but Courtney won everything, " says Patricia.

Courtney is Eric Liddell's great-granddaughter.