Ryan Lochte: ‘I over-exaggerated’ Olympics robbery story
US swimmer Ryan Lochte told NBC’s Matt Lauer it was his fault that a fabricated story about a robbery caused an international Olympics scandal.
“I over-exaggerated that story and if I had never done that we wouldn’t be in this mess,” he said in a snippet of the interview aired on NBC on Saturday evening.
“None of this would have happened,” he added about the aftermath in which three of his fellow swimmers were questioned by Brazilian police and one was ordered to donate nearly $11,000 to a Brazilian charity.
Lochte, 32 and a four-time Olympian, blamed his “immature behavior.”
Lauer asked Lochte about using the word “victims” in a prior interview when police have said the swimmers were vandals.
“It’s how you want to make it look like,” Lochte responded. “Whether you call it a robbery or whether you call it extortion or us paying just for the damages. We don’t know. All we know is there was a gun pointed in our direction and we were demanded to give money.”
NBC said it was set to air more of the interview during its Olympics coverage later Saturday. Lochte also spoke with Brazilian network Globo, which said it would televise its interview Saturday night.
The International Olympic Committee has set up a disciplinary commission to investigate Lochte and the three other US swimmers involved in an altercation at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro last Sunday. The commission will determine if the swimmers will face any punishment.
Lochte’s shifting account of the incident and the resulting fallout has threatened to steal the spotlight away from a Games that the IOC president on Saturday declared “iconic.”
Lochte said he and James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were robbed in the early morning hours of August 14 as they returned from a party. Brazilian authorities say the American swimmers actually vandalized a gas station and then got into an altercation with security guards there.
After taking a public pounding for reporting a robbery story that police say was fabricated, Lochte apologized Friday on Instagram for “not being more careful and candid” in his description.
The 12-time Olympic medalist said he accepted responsibility for his role in it and had “learned some valuable lessons.”
Endorsements: Will sponsors flee?
Even though Lochte has banked on his edgy image, the scandal could put a dent in Lochte’s current endorsements with Speedo, Airweave and Polo Ralph Lauren.
“I do think this is going to have a lasting impact on Ryan Lochte, and it’s not going to be good,” Christine Brennan, CNN contributor and sports analyst, said Friday.
Speedo said in a statement that it is following the situation closely. The swimwear company said it has “a policy not to comment on ongoing legal investigations. We suggest you contact his team for additional information.”
The mattress company Airweave is standing by the swimmer, for now.
“We do not allow unlawful behavior and will continue to monitor the investigation closely. I respect the athletic performance of Ryan, and as long as he is a respectable athlete, he will remain a US ambassador for Airweave as long as our partnership agreement remains effective. Our focus is on supporting Team USA, and our hope is people will remain focused on cheering on the athletes who still have events to compete in,” said a statement from Airweave Chief Executive Motokuni Takaoka.
The Airweave/Lochte partnership was already scheduled to end this year.
Clothing giant Ralph Lauren said it was working closely with the US Olympic Committee on the developments in Rio and is reviewing the situation.
“He’s certainly on the back end of his swimming career,” Brennan said. “I just cannot imagine any of these sponsors re-upping, if they decide to stay with him.”
Much speculation continues to swirl around the possible consequences the four US swimmers.
Drawing from sources with knowledge of the investigation, Brennan said she’s confident they will face disciplinary action as a result of their conduct.
“Ryan Lochte and all the other swimmers, I am sure will be suspended,” Brennan told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday night.
When asked for a comment, USA Swimming — the national governing body of competitive swimming — said, “USA Swimming will undergo a thorough review of the incident and determine any further actions, per our Code of Conduct.”
Charges dropped for charity donations
Conger and Bentz were pulled off a plane as they tried to leave Rio earlier this week, but were released after providing statements on the incident to Brazilian police.
Bentz, a University of Georgia student, followed in his teammate’s footsteps and apologized Friday to US officials, his teammates and his university.
“I regret this situation has drawn attention away from the Olympics, which have been hosted so incredibly well by Brazil and its citizens,” Bentz said.
Bentz emphasized that he was never a suspect in the case and that Brazilian law enforcement officials saw him only as a witness. He said he “never made a false statement to anyone at any time.”
Before leaving Brazil, Feigen entered a plea bargain with police to avoid prosecution. Brazilian civil police dropped all charges in exchange for Feigen paying roughly $11,000 dollars to a Brazilian charity organization.
‘Iconic Olympic Games’
Despite the distractions, Olympic organizers were focused on what made the Games in Rio memorable.
“These were and still are iconic Olympic Games in many respects,” IOC President Thomas Bach told journalists in Rio on Saturday.
“We have seen iconic athletes across all the sports. We have seen athletes who were icons already when they came here and they even strengthened their positions as icons like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, and we have seen athletes who have become icons here.”
Bach said the level of competition was “extremely high” with “stunning” athlete performances.
“I can only congratulate these athletes and say thank you, because this is really the spirit of the Olympic Games.”
Australian athletes had a few of their own run-ins with authorities at Rio 2016.
After a big night out in Copacabana, Australian swimmers Josh Palmer and Emma McKeon got a slap on the wrist for not returning to the Olympic Village before curfew after a night of drinking.
Banned from taking part in Monday’s closing ceremony, Palmer and McKeon are prohibited from leaving the Olympic Village between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Team management also imposed a 2 a.m. curfew on all team members for the rest of the Games.
Several other Australian athletes were fined after using the wrong accreditation to enter a basketball arena where the nation’s team played Serbia in the Olympics semifinal, on Saturday. Brazilian police briefly detained the athletes and fined them $3,000 for “tampering with credentials.”
Making a rebound
Phelps could be an example for teammate Lochte about how to bounce back from struggle.
Now the most decorated Olympian ever, Phelps was caught driving under the influence in 2004. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months of probation for what was his first DUI arrest.
USA Swimming suspended the 25-time Olympic medalist for 6 months for his second DUI arrest, in 2014, and he wasn’t allowed to compete for the US at the world championships in 2015.
Phelps initially lost sponsors, but went on to win new ones after going to rehab and showing remorse.
USA Swimming suspended swimmer Troy Dalbey after an incident at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, in which he and a teammate took an $800 marble lion’s head statue from a hotel.
Like Lochte, Dalbey was harshly criticized after he apologized publicly for the prank.
No charges were filed, but the swimmers were dropped from the squad and sent home. The national swimming governing body suspended Dalbey from national and international competition and team training camps for 18 months.
CNN’s Marilia Brocchetto, Aleks Klosok, Ahiza Garcia, and CNN Money’s Ahiza Garcia, contributed to this report.
By Azadeh Ansari and Steve Almasy