Rio Olympics: Star US swimmer Ryan Lochte apologised to Brazil on Friday for inventing a story that he and three teammates were mugged during the Olympics, as one of them paid $10,800 to avoid charges.
The US gold medal-winning swimmers hoped to draw a line under the scandal that erupted when Lochte went public with a shocking report of how the four were mugged on their way back from a party in Rio de Janeiro.
The claim that a man posing as a police officer held them up at gunpoint early Sunday and forced them to the ground sparked a media frenzy and pushed Brazilian Olympic authorities into an embarrassed apology.
But after police declared the story was fabricated — saying all that happened was that the swimmers were subdued by security after getting drunk and vandalizing a gas station bathroom — the now discredited Lochte finally came clean.
“I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that am sorry to my teammates, my fans, my fellow competitors, my sponsors and the hosts of this great event,” Lochte said in a statement.
Late Thursday, US Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun also apologised “to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence.”
Angry Brazilian authorities turned the tables on the swimmers this week as it became clear that the mugging drama did not hold up.
A judge ordered the athletes’ passports to be confiscated so that they could not leave the country. Lochte had already left, but the other three — Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen — were forced to undergo questioning in Rio police stations.
On Thursday, police provided CCTV footage and other evidence about what really happened.
The athletes, who appeared to be intoxicated, stopped in a taxi at a gas station to use the bathroom during the early hours of the morning.
Lochte and the others then vandalized the area near the bathroom and, according to the manager there, urinated on the walls.
Confronted by a security guard, they tried to leave. When the confrontation escalated, the security guard took out his pistol and made them sit on the ground.
After paying about $50 in compensation for the damage to the station, they left unharmed and returned to the athletes’ Village.
“There was no robbery of the kind reported by the athletes,” Rio de Janeiro’s police chief Fernando Veloso said. “The images do not show any kind of violence against them.”
Free to go
The three swimmers kept in Brazil retracted the mugging story in interviews with police on Thursday.
Bentz and Conger were then given back their passports and left immediately. Feigen was brought before a judge and ordered first to pay 35,000 reais ($10,800) to a charitable institution in order to be freed, police confirmed Friday.
“The swimmer accepted the proposal,” police said in a statement.
The swimmers will now have to face Olympic team leaders back home.
“While we are thankful our athletes are safe, we do not condone the lapse in judgment and conduct that led us to this point,” USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said.
“It is not representative of what is expected as Olympians, as Americans, as swimmers and as individuals.”
Blackmun also called the swimmers’ conduct “not acceptable.”
“We will further review the matter, and any potential consequences for the athletes, when we return to the United States,” he said.
Rio is plagued by violent crime and Brazil has deployed 85,000 police and soldiers to secure the Olympics. Numerous athletes — including a British team member on Tuesday night — have been mugged.
But given Lochte’s high profile, his mugging claim and the reported involvement of someone with police identification caused huge embarrassment, overshadowing sporting action in the second week of South America’s first Olympics.
Brazilian media has covered the US athletes’ subsequent humiliation in exhaustive detail. The powerful Globo television network broadcasting leaked police evidence, shredding the swimmers’ story, far before the authorities made any public statement.
In the United States, Lochte came in for some serious scorn, with comments in the media and on the Internet almost universally scathing.
In his apology Friday, Lochte, who has won 12 Olympic medals and is 32, said the gas station confrontation had been scary.
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave,” he said.
But he said: “I accept my responsibility for my role in this happening and have learned some valuable lessons.”