In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer that aired in part Saturday evening, swimmer Ryan Lochte attempted to explain his role in falsely portraying a late-night incident involving him and three teammates at a Rio de Janeiro gas station last weekend. Lochte originally said he and his teammates (Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen) were robbed at gunpoint, a version of events later discredited by Brazilian police.
“I over-exaggerated that story,” Lochte told Lauer on Saturday. “If I had never done that, we would never be in this mess. Those guys would never be in Rio — or were in Rio. None of this would’ve happened. It was my immature behavior.”
Asked why he lied to NBC’s Billy Bush in a Sunday interview about a gun being pressed to his forehead and cocked in his initial story, Lochte said he was still intoxicated from drinking the night before. He later said he “definitely had too much to drink.”
“It was still hours after the incident happened,” Lochte said. “I was still intoxicated. I was still under that influence, and I’m not making me being intoxicated an excuse. It was my fault, and I shouldn’t have said that.”
In one exchange, Lauer told Lochte that, while his initial version portrayed the four swimmers as victims, Brazilian police said the gas station security guards said they were merely seeking restitution for vandalism committed by the swimmers.
“It’s how you want to make it look like,” Lochte said in response. “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.”
Lauer then pointed out to Lochte that accounts from Bentz and Conger said someone acted as an interpreter between the swimmers and the gas station employees, which indicated there wasn’t confusion that the security guards were demanding payment for their damaged property.
“At that point, you’re striking a deal,” Lauer said. “You’re striking a deal to pay for what damage you caused, so he doesn’t call the police and this doesn’t become a bigger incident. Isn’t that fair?”
“We just wanted to get out of there,” Lochte said. “There was a gun pointed in our direction. We were all frightened, and we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. The only way we knew was this guy saying you have to give them money, so we gave them money and we got out.”
At Lauer’s assertion that Lochte’s first account played up a “mean streets of Rio” angle rather than the “negotiated settlement” that it was, the 32-year-old Lochte said that’s why he’s taking “full responsibility for it.” Lochte said that he was embarrassed, regretting that he took attention away from other Olympic athletes with his fabrication and also extending an apology to the people of Rio de Janeiro because “they put on a great Games.”
“I was immature, and I made a stupid mistake,” Lochte said. “I’m human. I’ll definitely learn from this. I’m just really sorry.”
Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, posted a statement to his social-media accounts Friday in which he apologized for his “behavior” and said he “should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself.”
Lochte’s story of the night’s events had changed at least twice. He initially told a U.S. Olympic Committee official, who contacted Lochte soon after reports of an armed robbery began to circulate in the news media, that the reports were untrue and there was no robbery — which led to an embarrassing chain of events where the USOC told the International Olympic Committee the reports were untrue, and the IOC repeated that claim to the media.
By Sunday afternoon, Lochte was telling Bush that the four swimmers had been held up at gunpoint by armed assailants flashing police badges, and that one of them had held a gun to his forehead.
Then, three days after the alleged robbery, as Brazilian police were already casting doubts on the claims, Lochte altered his story slightly in an off-camera interview with Lauer, saying the robbery actually occurred at a gas station and that the gun had not been pointed at his forehead. Still, according to Lauer’s recounting of the conversation, Lochte stood by the account of an armed robbery.
In the interview that aired Saturday night, Lauer pointed to those two interviews and how Lochte had not told “the whole truth.”
“I left details out, which, that’s why I’m in this mess,” Lochte said in response. “I left certain things out, and I over-exaggerated certain parts of the story.”
As recently as Friday, Lochte’s U.S.-based attorney, Jeff Ostrow, was telling reporters Lochte stood by his characterization of the incident as a robbery at gunpoint.
But in statements released after they reached the states, both Bentz and Conger indicated that parts of Lochte’s account were untrue and implied the incident stemmed from Lochte’s vandalism. Their detailed accounts of the incident confirmed much of what was on the surveillance video released by the police, although both Bentz and Conger claimed Lochte tore off a metal advertising sign, and not a bathroom door, as the police said.
The interpreter has said the swimmers pleaded with the employees not to call the police and that a weapon was produced but never pointed at the athletes.
Bentz, 20, and Conger, 21, were removed from their U.S.-bound flight Wednesday night by Brazilian authorities, who seized their passports and questioned them for several hours about the incident. Their passports were returned Thursday, and they flew out of Rio de Janeiro that night.
Feigen, 26, was also prevented from leaving Brazil and was released Friday only after agreeing to pay a fine of about $10,800 to a Brazilian charity.
Lochte appeared on the verge of tears when describing his feelings over being back in the United States while the three other swimmers were interrogated in Brazil.
“I let my team down,” Lochte said. “I wanted to be there. Like, I don’t want them to think that I left and left them dry, because they were my teammates. I wanted to definitely be there, and I wanted to help out any way I could, so I just wanted to make sure they were home safe before I came out and talked.”