RIO DE JANEIRO — U.S Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte apologized Friday for his behavior surrounding an early-morning incident at a Rio de Janeiro gas station, saying he should have been more “careful and candid” about how he described what happened after a night of partying with his teammates.
Lochte said in a lengthy post on Instagram 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 Olympic medalist reiterated his view that a stranger pointed a gun at him and demanded money to let him leave a gas station. Lochte had called it a gunpoint robbery; Brazilian police said he and three other swimmers vandalized a bathroom while intoxicated 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 and the other swimmers could face sanctions from USA Swimming, including fines or suspension. The group, as well as Olympic officials, publicly expressed disappointment.
Lochte, 32, has said he plans to take an extended break after the Rio Games and relocate to Los Angeles. Swimming’s biggest meet next year is the world championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Until his apology, Lochte had been silent about the situation after he returned to the United States early this week. He said Friday he wanted to speak 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, Jimmy Feigen, made a deal with a judge to make a $10,800 payment and leave, his lawyer said.
Local organizers and the mayor of Rio de Janeiro said they accepted Lochte’s apology.
“My feeling is one of pity,” Mayor Eduardo Paes said. “They did not represent the American athletes that are here.”
The drama — and ever-changing descriptions of the alleged robbery — deeply angered Brazilians, who said it cast a pall on their city and their Olympics. The saga also dominated Olympic headlines, overshadowing accomplishments of athletes who trained for years and set records. The situation was an enormous embarrassment for the U.S. Olympic team, which has dominated in winning medals.
Mario Andrada, spokesman for the local organizers of the Rio Games, said 2.5 percent of the mentions on the @Rio2016 Twitter account since the beginning of the games have been about the Lochte situation.
“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.
Developments came rapidly after police asserted that the swimmers had not been robbed. Instead, Brazilian police said the men vandalized the bathroom while intoxicated, were questioned by guards, then paid for the damage and left.
“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 Sergio Riera insisted they were witnesses only, were truthful at all times and had nothing to do with Lochte’s story.
Feigen planned to donate 35,000 Brazilian reals ($10,800) to an “institution” and leave the country, his lawyer said. Attorney Breno Melaragno didn’t specify where the money will go, but his use of the term “institution” can be taken to mean a charity. Under Brazilian law, a donation can be made to avoid criminal prosecution for minor offenses, he said.
Prosecutors were considering relatively minor charges of falsely reporting a crime and destruction of property, as recommended by police.
The saga began when Lochte said he, Conger, Bentz and Feigen were held at gunpoint and robbed several hours after the last Olympic swimming races ended Saturday night. Investigators couldn’t substantiate details given in early statements and interviews and the claim began to unravel.
Then security video reviewed by police and later released publicly confirmed the vandalism and encounter with station employees.
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 would have been justified in drawing their weapons because the athletes “were conducting themselves in a violent way.”
A station employee called police, but the athletes wanted to leave so paid 100 Brazilian reals (about US $33) and $20 in U.S. currency and left, Veloso said.
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 Lochte lied about the situation in media interviews, according to text of the statements released by Rio police.
Lochte relayed several details to NBC’s “Today” the morning after the incident that he later backtracked from.
He first said the group was pulled over in a taxi by men with a police badge who drew guns. He said he refused to get on the ground like the rest of his teammates and a gun was cocked and put to his forehead.
“I was like ‘whatever,’” Lochte said in his initial account. “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.
While he’s medaled often, Lochte’s accomplishments have long been overshadowed by teammate Michael Phelps — the most decorated Olympian in history. Lochte won a gold in Rio in a relay race alongside Phelps.