RIO DE JANEIRO: Star US swimmer Ryan Lochte apologized to Brazil yesterday 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 apologized “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. 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 reals ($10,800) to a charitable institution in order to be freed, police confirmed yesterday. “The swimmer accepted the proposal,” police said in a statement. The swimmers will now have to face Olympic team leaders back home. In the United States, Lochte came in for some serious scorn, with comments in the media and on the Internet almost universally scathing. – AFP