Lochte apologizes over Rio 'robbery' scandal

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  • Ryan Lochte
    Ryan Lochte
    American swimmer

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Star American swimmer Ryan Lochte apologized for inventing a robbery and setting off a storm of controversy that embarrassed the sporting superpower at the Olympics.

Lochte had said that he and three other gold medal winning US swimmers were mugged by robbers pretending to be police whilst on their way back from an all-night party in Rio de Janeiro last Sunday.

Rio 2016 organizers apologized profusely. But after police declared the story bogus -- saying that swimmers had only been subdued by security and made to pay compensation for drunken vandalization of a gas station bathroom -- Lochte finally came clean, saying he should have been "more careful and candid."

"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," the 32-year-old Lochte said in a statement.

US Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun also apologized "to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal" in a statement late Thursday.

The International Olympic Committee will launch a disciplinary inquiry into the four swimmers, an IOC official told AFP.

The inquiry is to be led by Denis Oswald, an IOC member and lawyer from Switzerland who used to head the international rowing federation, the official said. Sanctions are possible.

But Lochte's lawyer, Jeffrey Ostrow, told USA Today that the swimmer was not admitting guilt or that he lied. Lochte still considered the security guard to have "extorted the money" for the smashed-up bathroom.

- Drunken vandalism -

A Rio judge ordered the athletes' passports to be confiscated on Wednesday so that they could not leave the country.

Lochte had already left, but the other three -- Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen -- underwent questioning in Rio police stations.

On Thursday, police released CCTV footage and other evidence about events in the gas station.

The athletes, who appeared 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, urinated on the walls.

Confronted by a security guard, they tried to leave. When tensions 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."

Still, Lochte's lawyer said there was more to uncover about the actions of the security guard.

- 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. Feigen was brought before a judge and ordered to pay 35,000 reais ($10,800) to a charitable institution in order to be freed.

"The swimmer accepted the proposal," police said in a statement.

Prosecutors announced late Thursday they are appealing and want the fine raised to $47,000. However, Feigen is still free to leave, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office told AFP.

The swimmers will now have to face Olympic team leaders back home.

"We do not condone the lapse in judgment and conduct," USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said.

Blackmun also said the conduct was "not acceptable."

Rio is plagued by violent crime and Brazil has deployed 85,000 police and soldiers to secure the Olympics. Numerous athletes have been mugged.

Given Lochte's high profile, his mugging claim and the reported involvement of someone with police identification caused huge embarrassment and rivalled sporting action at the Games, which end Sunday.

Brazilian media have covered the US athletes' subsequent humiliation in exhaustive detail. The powerful Globo television network broadcasting leaked police evidence, shredded the swimmers' story, before the authorities made any public statement.

In the United States, Lochte came in for some serious scorn, with media and internet comments almost universally scathing.

In his apology, Lochte -- who has won 12 Olympic medals, six of them gold -- said the gas station confrontation had been "traumatic."

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