Ryan Lochte and three of his teammates on the U.S. swimming team allegedly invented a story about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games. Here is an attempt to explain what might have happened in the early hours of Sunday morning and why this has become a minor international incident.
So some guys might have made up a story about a robbery? Why is that such a big deal?
For Brazilian police—who seem to be investing a huge amount of resources in chasing down whether a bunch of swimmers concocted a fictional tale—it’s a big deal because they want to push back against the notion that the country is an extremely dangerous place. The premise that one of the most high-profile athletes at the Olympics got a gun pointed at his forehead wouldn’t help that reputation.
For Americans, it’s a big deal because Ryan Lochte is involved.
Who is Ryan Lochte?
The 32-year-old Lochte is the second-most-accomplished male swimmer in U.S history, with six Olympic gold medals and 12 medals overall. In Rio, he won gold in the 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay.
Aside from that, Lochte is famous for being a superattractive dummy. In 2012, the New York Times published an article titled “The Making of an Olympic Sex Symbol,” in which it described “his twinkling blue eyes, aquiline nose and dimpled smile.” Jezebel called him “America’s Sexiest Douchebag” and the Hairpin described him as a “scaldingly hot goon.” In Slate, Amanda Hess described him this way: “While Lochte is certainly highly broish, an unrelated character trait—stupidity—dominates his public persona. He is more himbo than bro.” All of this has helped give Lochte a higher profile than most Olympic athletes. For instance, Lochte parlayed his celebrity into the role of “Sex Idiot” on 30 Rock.
What happened to Lochte in Brazil? Was he really robbed at gunpoint?
Almost certainly not, no. What we know is that Lochte went out partying with his buddies and there was an incident at a gas station that may or may not have involved the group urinating publicly. Lochte and his buddies reportedly threw some money at some locals to try to make everything go away, they got home late, and Lochte told his mom he got robbed. Lochte’s mom told the media, Lochte reported the purported crime, the Brazilian authorities didn’t buy the story, a judge tried to confiscate the swimmers’ passports to keep them in the country and investigate them further, but Lochte had already left Brazil while his three compatriots got left behind. Brazilian police now say the whole robbery was made up.
OK, I’m still confused. Can you start from the beginning?
Ryan Lochte was born in Rochester, New York, on Aug. 3, 1984.
Maybe a little later than that.
Early Sunday morning, Lochte and his squad—fellow U.S. swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen—went out to have a good time. According to the Daily Mail, the quartet posted a shot of a Rio street on Snapchat at around 2 a.m., then another image of four pairs of $1,500 Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 shoes with the caption “6kdeep.”
At some point, the group went out with Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira and his wife, Gabriela Pauletti, to a place called Club France. They then posted this Snapchat video of their night on the town.
Surveillance footage shows the group leaving at 5:50 a.m., though Brazilian news reports indicate Lochte and Feigen told investigators they left the club at 4 a.m.
The swimmers arrived back at the Olympic Village at 6:56 a.m. What happened between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. is what is in dispute.
What did Ryan Lochte say happened?
Lochte said a lot of things. The first person Ryan Lochte apparently talked to was his mother, Ileana. According to her account to Australia’s Fox Sports News 500, which appears to be the first telling of the story, Lochte was scheduled to meet his mom and his girlfriend when he told his mom he and his friends had been robbed. “I think they’re all shaken up. There were a few of them,” the swimmer’s mother told USA Today. “They just took their wallets and basically that was it.” After the media picked up the story, Lochte gave this account to NBC’s Billy Bush:
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. 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.
The U.S. Olympic Committee then reported that the four team members had started cooperating with authorities. Lochte conveyed his version of events to police on Monday and, according to his attorney, signed a written statement. Lochte’s attorney also said the Olympian was telling the truth. NBC reports that Lochte said there was only one attacker, while his friend Feigen said there were “some.” Lochte later changed his story in an interview with Matt Lauer, saying he had never had a gun to his head that it had just been pointed in his general direction. He also told Lauer the incident happened at a gas station while they were trying to use the bathroom, rather than after their cab had been pulled over.
What really happened?
Based on the current reports coming out of Brazil, including surveillance footage and eyewitness testimony, it appears as though Lochte and the other U.S. swimmers got in a drunken conflict with some employees at a gas station, instigated when the swimmers broke down the door of a locked bathroom. The police were called, but the group had left by the time the cops arrived. “Witnesses, including a person who offered to translate for the swimmers, said that they paid money to the manager before leaving,” the New York Times reports. The owner of the gas station reportedly told the Brazilian news outlet O Globo that at least one of the swimmers urinated on the walls of the station. In a press conference on Thursday, Rio chief of civil police Fernando Veloso said Lochte’s version was definitively a lie and one of the other swimmers had corroborated the police version of events. He also said the security guard did pull out a gun in an attempt to control the situation with the drunken swimmers, who had just vandalized the station (including damaging a bathroom mirror). He also said that before leaving the swimmers tried to pay the station employees for the damage with a mix of Brazilian and U.S. currency totaling about $50.
Why would Lochte make up a story about a robbery?
We are now in the realm of pure speculation. Maybe Lochte wanted to cancel a scheduled appointment with his mom and girlfriend after a late night on the town that was made later by the fracas at the gas station? Maybe the 32-year-old Lochte needed to ask his mom for money after giving it all away at the gas station? Maybe Lochte is just dumb? Once, he responded to an interviewer who asked him “what is four times seven?” by saying “21.” That seemed like it might be a funny joke at the time, but now I’m not so sure.
In his press conference, Veloso said the police began to get suspicious when they spoke with “a cab driver” (presumably the swimmers’ cab driver) who said there were “two girls in the taxi.” Veloso then speculated “we believe one of the athletes has a relationship with someone else and wants—possibly his girlfriend—not to know what happened that night so he had potentially a reason to deny what happened.”
That’s what the man said.
Who is to blame for this mess?
Veloso said security guards described Lochte as the instigator. “He was very angry because he was intoxicated,” the chief of civil police explained.
Could Lochte and his cohort be arrested or extradited for lying to police?
Prosecutor André Buonora said in a statement the swimmers could face charges for providing false statements if they in fact lied to police. The Daily Mail reported that in Brazil the maximum sentence for false communication of a crime is three years in jail. USA Today reported that filing a false police report can result in six months in jail or a fine. Lochte is probably safe and sound on U.S. soil, though. “Given the fact that this is, at best, a misdemeanor, I find it very hard to believe that the U.S. would participate in an extradition,” a legal expert told People magazine. NBC News also reported that he would likely not be extradited for a misdemeanor.
What happens next?
If it were up to the organizers of the Rio Olympics, everyone would move along and say “nothing to see here.” “No apologies from [Lochte] or from the other athletes are needed,” Mario Andrada, a spokesman for the Rio Olympics organizing committee said on Thursday. “We need to understand that these kids were trying to have fun. They came here, they represented their country to the best of their abilities.”
But Brazilian authorities are not going to let this go, it seems. The AP reported Conger and Bentz got pulled off a plane before they could return to the United States and subsequently told police the robbery story was fabricated. Feigen’s attorney, meanwhile, declined to comment.
Veloso said that normally he wouldn’t discuss such potential charges, but that “[in] theory, one or all of them might be charged for false communication of a crime and for damaging private [property] at the gas station. I’m not saying that they are charged right now because … we have to finalize the investigation.” He also demanded an apology: “[The] apology in the way is not to the police, but really to the city of Rio de Janeiro that had its name tainted by a very unreal or untruthful version. And I think it would be very noble for them to say that, you know, to really provide their apologies to the city of Rio.”