Olympic team chaplains help athletes face up to failings

Alex Schwazer of Italy, who won the gold medal in race walking in 2008, but was disqualified from competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London after failing a blood test for doping, becomes emotional during a news conference in Bolzano, Italy, Aug. 8. Schwazer said it was a relief to be caught for taking blood-booster EPO because of the guilt he felt after hiding it even from his girlfriend. (CNS photo/Stringer via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The job of an Olympic team chaplain sometimes involves helping athletes face up to weaknesses of character, said the Italian team chaplain, after one of the nation's athletes was disqualified on account of drug use.

A chaplain provides spiritual support, friendship and encouragement to the athletes, but he is also there to promote “confrontation, dialogue, reflection, to help them find themselves” when they are lost, said Msgr. Mario Lusek.

From London, where he is ministering to Italian Olympians, Msgr. Lusek spoke to Vatican Radio Aug. 9 about Alex Schwazer, who won the gold medal in race walking in 2008, but was disqualified from competing in London Aug. 6 after failing a blood test for doping.

“I believe that darkness is always lurking in the human heart. There are times when you lose that sense of light that carried you through over the course of years,” Msgr. Lusek said. “I think Alex Schwazer experienced that.”

The athlete was “admired by everyone, and certainly even envied, but at the same time he had his fragility, his anxieties, his fears,” the chaplain said.

People should not forget, he added, that “Olympic athletes are basically youths with all the characteristics typical of being young. Sometimes they aren't able handle their limitations or fears.”

Msgr. Lusek said Schwazer's story of doping before the 50-kilometer (31-mile) race should be seen as a cautionary tale of someone who took “dangerous shortcuts to arrive at that goal for which he struggled and prepared” so long.

The chaplain said he's deeply disappointed in Schwazer, but also filled with “tenderness” for the 27-year-old, and concerned that he can eventually find his way.

— By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service 

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