RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — U.S Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has apologized for his behavior surrounding a late-night incident at a Rio de Janeiro gas station, saying he should have been more “careful and candid” about how he described what happened.
Lochte said in a lengthy post on Instagram Friday that he was apologizing for his role in taking the focus away from other Olympic athletes.
“This was a situation that could and should have been avoided,” Lochte said. “I accept responsibility for my role in this happening and have learned some valuable lessons.”
The 12-time gold medalist reiterated his view that a stranger pointed a gun at him and demanded money to let him leave. Lochte had called it a robbery; Brazilian police said he and three other swimmers vandalized a gas station bathroom after a night of partying and were confronted by armed security guards.
“Regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that am sorry,” Lochte said.
Lochte, who was silent about the situation after he returned to the United States earlier this week, said he wanted to wait to share his thoughts until the legal situation was addressed and his teammates were allowed to come home.
Two of the other swimmers, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, were on their way Friday after being held in Brazil to testify. The fourth swimmer, Jimmy Feigen, made a deal with a judge to make a $10,800 payment and be allowed to leave the country later Friday, his lawyer said.
“We accept and appreciate his apology,” said Mario Andrada, spokesman for the local organizers of the Rio Games.
The drama surrounding the alleged robbery — and the ever-changing descriptions of it by the swimmers — has shocked and deeply angered Brazilians, who said it cast a false negative shadow on their city and their Olympics during an enormous moment. The saga also dominated Olympic headlines, overshadowing worthy accomplishments of athletes who trained for years just to get to Rio and set records during their performances. The situation was an enormous embarrassment for the U.S. Olympic team, which has dominated in the medal count.
“There has already been too much said and too many valuable resources dedicated to what happened last weekend, so I hope we spend our time celebrating the great stories and performances of these games,” Lochte said.
Rapid developments early Friday came hours after police announced that Lochte and three of his teammates had not been held at gunpoint, as Lochte claimed. Instead, Brazilian police said the men vandalized the bathroom while intoxicated, were questioned by guards, then paid for the damage and left.
“No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed,” Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso said.
As Bentz and Conger flew home Thursday night, their attorney insisted they were witnesses only and had nothing to do with Lochte’s story.
“They did not make any untruthful testimony. They did not lie in their statements,” lawyer Sergio Riera told The Associated Press.
A lawyer for the fourth swimmer, James Feigen, said early Friday that the athlete planned to donate 35,000 Brazilian reals ($10,800) to an “institution” and leave the country later in the day. Attorney Breno Melaragno said under the agreement, Feigen will make the donation, get his passport back and depart. Melaragno did not specify where the money will go, but his use of the term “institution” can be taken to mean a charity. He said that under Brazilian law, a donation can be made to avoid criminal prosecution for minor offenses, but did not say what charge was being contemplated.
The case may not be settled even though police appear mostly finished with their probe. Authorities are considering charges of falsely reporting a crime and destruction of property, both of which can carry up to six months in jail or a fine, police said.
Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow, told the New York Times the surveillance video corroborated the “primary elements” of Lochte’s version of events.
The saga began when Lochte said he and Conger, Bentz and Feigen were held at gunpoint and robbed several hours after the last Olympic swimming races ended. That claim started unraveling when police said investigators couldn’t substantiate it.
Then security video reviewed by police and later released publicly confirmed the gas station vandalism and that the swimmers spoke with station employees.
Veloso said the swimmers broke a door, a soap dispenser and a mirror.
The footage doesn’t show a weapon, but a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said two guards pointed guns at the swimmers. Veloso said the guards did not use excessive force and would have been justified in drawing their weapons because the athletes “were conducting themselves in a violent way.”
A station employee called police, and the guards and employees tried to get the swimmers and a taxi driver to stay until authorities arrived, some even offering to help interpret between English and Portuguese, Veloso said. But he said the athletes wanted to leave, so they paid 100 Brazilian reals (about US $33) and $20 in U.S. currency and left.
Police said the swimmers were unable to provide key details in early interviews, saying they had been intoxicated. The police official said officers grew suspicious when video showed the swimmers returning to the athletes village wearing watches, which would have likely been taken in a robbery.
Bentz and Conger told police that they felt Lochte had lied about the situation in media interviews, according to text of the statements released by Rio police.
“We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over,” Lochte told NBC’s “Today” the morning after the incident. “They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground.
“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cellphone, he left my credentials.”
The debacle prompted both wild speculation and social media mockery, which quickly turned to scorn after the official account went public.
David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, said the incident touched a nerve in Brazil because of the country’s history and cases of people committing crimes while impersonating police.
Onlookers shouted “liars” and “shameful” at Bentz and Conger as they left a police station Thursday where they gave statements.
While he’s medaled often, Lochte’s accomplishments have long been overshadowed by teammate Michael Phelps — the most decorated Olympian in history. Lochte, a 12-time medalist, won a gold in Rio in a relay race alongside Phelps.
Lochte and the other swimmers could face sanctions from USA Swimming, including fines or suspension. The group, as well as Olympic officials, publicly expressed disappointment and said they would further examine the matter.
“We apologize 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,” the U.S. Olympic Committee said.
AP reporters Cristiana Mesquita, Beth Harris, Chris Lehourites, Pauline Arrillaga, Tim Reynolds and Renata Brito in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.