A tearful Ryan Lochte has said sorry to his US swimming team-mates, his family and the people of Brazil for a "stupid mistake" at a Rio gas station that overshadowed the final week of the Olympic Games.
The six-time gold medallist also tried to explain why he made up the story of the robbery that never was. “I was intoxicated,” Lochte said. “I was immature, and I made a stupid mistake. I’m human, and I’m just really sorry.”
Lochte, in a lengthy interview with NBC's Matt Lauer that aired on Saturday night, discussed what happened at a Rio gas station a week ago.
Lochte initially said he and three fellow US swimmers – Gunnar Bentz, James Feigen and Jack Conger – had, after a night of partying, been held up at gunpoint and had their possessions taken. But police couldn't find any evidence to support his claims, and as inconsistencies in Lochte's account grew, the story unravelled.
Lauer pressed him on why he didn’t tell the truth in the first place.
"When you talked to [NBC presenter] Billy Bush on Sunday afternoon, and when you spoke to me on Wednesday, why didn't you tell me the whole truth?" Lauer asked.
Lochte said: “I left details out, and that’s why I’m in this mess.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know why,” Lochte responded. “It was still hours after the incident happened. I was still intoxicated. I’m not making an excuse, I’m not doing that at all, and I shouldn’t have said that. I over-exaggerated that part, and the gun was drawn but not at my forehead. It was towards my general direction as you can see in the surveillance video.”
At one point in the interview, Lochte became tearful, and admitted he was “embarrassed” for himself, “my family, USA Swimming, the fans, and everyone watching.”
Lochte also gave his “deepest apologies to the people of Brazil. They put on a great Games. The people of Rio, the people of Brazil, they put on a great Games, and my immature, intoxicated behaviour tarnished that a little. And I don’t want that. I hope they can accept my apology.”
Lauer asked him why he described the incident at the gas station as a robbery. “What I’m trying to get at is – the first version of the story you told, Ryan, was much more about the mean streets of Rio,” Lauer told him. “And the version we’re hearing now is much more about a negotiated settlement to cover up some dumb behaviour.”
“And that’s why I’m taking full responsibility for it,” Lochte, wearing a sombre shirt and with hair back to its normal colour, said. “Because I over-exaggerated that story. And if I had never done that, we wouldn’t be in this mess. None of this would have happened. And it was my immature behaviour.”
Police, after reviewing surveillance video and witness testimony, concluded that no hold-up had occurred, but said the swimmers had vandalised a restroom at the gas station, and had then been confronted by security guards, who took out their weapons and told the Americans to pay for the damage before leaving.
Gunnar Bentz said on Friday that the swimmers had not vandalised the restroom, but admitted they had urinated on a wall nearby. Bentz also said Lochte pulled down a metal advertisement from its frame.
The swimmers reportedly offered 100 Brazilian reals (about €27.50) and $20 to compensate for the damage. Lochte admitted that he understood what was happening with the negotiations.
Lauer said: “You’re striking a deal to pay for what damage you’ve caused so that he doesn’t call the police and this doesn’t become a bigger incident?”
“We just wanted to get out of there,” Lochte replied. “There was a gun pointed in our direction. We were all frightened. And we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. And the only way we knew is – this guy saying: ‘You have to give him money.’ So we gave him money, and we got out.”
A Brazilian judge on Wednesday told Lochte and Feigen to remain in the country, but Lochte had already left. Bentz and Conger were pulled off a plane at Rio’s airport by authorities late on Wednesday and questioned. The three remaining swimmers were eventually allowed to leave, however, and all four are back in the US.
Asked how he felt seeing coverage of his team-mates detained, Lochte told Lauer: “Hurt. I let my team down. I don’t want them to think I left them high and dry.”
A contrite Lochte also left the door open for an appearance at Tokyo in 2020. “There’s still more I want to accomplish in this sport. I’m going to move forward from this, learn from this and make sure this never happens again.”
“I know what I did was wrong,” he said. “And I know I learned my lesson. These kind of shenanigans will never happen again.”