U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte’s four commercial sponsors dropped the 12-time Olympic medal winner Monday in response to the incident eight days ago in which he falsely claimed he and three teammates had been held up by armed robbers at a Rio de Janeiro gas station.
The decisions by Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Airweave and Gentle Hair Removal came after Lochte admitted to “over-exaggerating” the armed-robbery claim, an assertion that overshadowed much of the second week of the Summer Olympics that concluded Sunday.
Lochte, meanwhile, said he would continue to swim even if sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee for his lack of honesty.
“I’m still going to be swimming,” he told TMZ in Los Angeles on Monday. “I’m swimming for another four years, so however long my suspension is, what the USOC says, I’m going to get back in the water and keep going.”
Lochte’s commercial sponsors announced they are parting ways with the swimmer, who initially claimed he and his teammates were robbed at gunpoint early Aug. 14 after a night of partying. Brazilian authorities said the four vandalized a gas station and were told by an armed security guard they had to pay for the damages before they were allowed to leave.
“While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for,” Speedo, the swimwear company, said in a statement released Monday morning. “We appreciate his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience.”
The company also announced that it would donating $50,000 of Lochte’s fee to the Save the Children charity, which will direct the money toward youngsters in Brazil. Lochte signed a reported 10-year deal with Speedo in 2006, meaning the agreement was near its end.
“I respect Speedo’s decision and am grateful for the opportunities that our partnership has afforded me over the years,” Lochte, 32, said in a statement following the swimwear company’s announcement. “I am proud of the accomplishments that we have achieved together.”
Ralph Lauren followed soon after, with the apparel company announcing in a statement that it would be ending its association with Lochte.
“Ralph Lauren continues to proudly sponsor the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team and the values that its athletes embody,” the statement read. “Ralph Lauren’s endorsement agreement with Ryan Lochte was specifically in support of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the company will not be renewing his contract.”
Syneron-Candela, parent company of Gentle Hair Removal, was the third to cut ties Monday, saying in a statement that it holds its employees “to high standards, and we expect the same of our business partners.”
Airweave, a Japanese mattress manufacturer that had pledged to stand by Lochte, announced late Monday in a tweet that it, too, would drop him “after careful consideration.”
Marketers said many younger Olympic stars emerge with each four-year cycle of the Games. With the competition for endorsements so fierce, it now takes several gold medals — or an unusually compelling personal story — to earn big, multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals. At 32, it may be impossible for Lochte to recover, they said.
“Given his age, he is less likely to be competitive going forward,” David Carter, executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said Friday.
Lochte’s brain trust had already begun the rehabilitation process. His team, which includes Creative Artists Agency, has retained public relations specialist Matthew Hiltzik to help the athlete repair his image. Hiltzik declined to comment Friday.
Lochte told TMZ that he has yet to make a decision about whether to seek help for his drinking. In his first televised mea culpa on NBC, he admitted he was “still intoxicated” when he made the initial robbery claim during an appearance on the network Aug. 14.
“It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to be more responsible about,” Lochte told TMZ when asked about his drinking. “Everything that happened in Rio, I’m definitely going to learn from it. We’re human, we learn from our mistakes.
“Right now I need to just see my family and talk with them about what I’m going to do.”
U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun on Sunday all but promised that Lochte and teammates Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger would be punished over their roles in the incident.
Lochte left Brazil before authorities there could question him beyond his original assertions. Feigen faced a charge of falsely reporting a crime, though he was allowed to leave the country Friday after making a charitable donation as part of a plea bargain.
“If the USOC says I can’t swim anymore, I think that would be the most hurtful, just because I put so much time and effort into this sport. I mean, that would be heartbreaking,” Lochte said when asked by TMZ about his thoughts on a possible sanction. “My true friends still support me, being behind me 100 percent, so that’s what keeps me going.”