How Ryan Lochte turned a drunken, frat-boy night into an international mess

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RIO DE JANEIRO – A massive throng of international media crowded the so-called Rio Tourist Police station near Ipanema Beach for a perp walk on Thursday, waiting for three detained American swimmers to appear and speak with investigators.

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Yeah, it’s come to this: The story of the Olympics, a likely fake claim of robbery at the end of a drunken night of debauchery turned into global story courtesy of a publicity-mad swimmer-turned-reality-TV-star who, unlike his three buddies – teammates Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz – is home safe in the United States.

This is likely bad news for Ryan Lochte, whose compatriots could throw him under the bus to authorities. Police said at least one of the swimmers told investigators that the group wasn’t robbed or extorted.

Ryan Lochte said he was robbed at gunpoint by people impersonating police officers. (Reuters)
Ryan Lochte said he was robbed at gunpoint by people impersonating police officers. (Reuters)

Not that Lochte could have envisioned this coming. So press-addicted as he is, he apparently can’t comprehend the drama and difficulties he’s left behind in Rio as he continues to fan the rage of the Brazilians.

Down here, authorities not only don’t believe his story of being mugged at gunpoint Sunday, but also see his whole story as nothing but an attempt to further denigrate and humiliate the nation and its law enforcement.

The truth is Ryan Lochte was safe and secure in Rio. The Brazilians have thus far done an admirable job guarding Olympic venues, housing and transportation, especially for the athletes. Perfect, no, but it’s never perfect.

If some of them want to run the streets of Rio at night on their own, as Lochte’s quickly unraveling story is based on, well, that’s on them and against all of the recommendations provided them or common sense of living in a major city – here or at home.

As angry as the Brazilians are with Lochte, his fellow swimmers should be even more heated. None of this becomes an international incident without Lochte trying to turn it into a Kardashian-esque marketing opportunity.

If this was a good night celebrating Olympic achievement turned unnecessarily wild and then decidedly bad night, well, it happens. No matter what did or did not occur, it appears everyone survived unscathed. Move on and one day laugh over it.

Even the IOC agrees. “We have to understand that these kids were trying to have fun,” IOC Rio Games spokesperson Mario Andrada said. “They came here, they represent their country to the best of their ability. They train for years. They competed under gigantic pressure. I understand they’re under investigation. I can’t go much further into the details.

“But let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all times. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”

Of course, Lochte is 32 years old, and no “kid.” Lochte’s publicity machine kicked in as word of the robbery leaked to the press, with Lochte’s mother as a confirming source. Then his team of representatives pushed back on the doubts from Rio police and the IOC.

[Related: Rio 2016 official on Lochte scandal: ‘Let’s give these kids a break’]

Then Lochte just couldn’t shut up and had to go on NBC with Billy Bush – whose full-time job is with Access Hollywood – and describe an outrageous series of events.

“We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over,” Lochte said. “They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground – they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so – I’m not getting down on the ground.

“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever. He took our money, he took my wallet – he left my cellphone, he left my credentials.”

U.S. Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz (left) and Jack Conger leave a Rio police station early Thursday. (AP)
U.S. Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz (left) and Jack Conger leave a Rio police station early Thursday. (AP)

Notice the details. The other three guys cowered in front of the robbers, but not Tough Guy Ryan who refused to get down on the ground. And while those three were cravenly obeying orders, it took a gun to the forehead, cocked even, for him to declare “whatever” and turn over some money.

So Ryan is a bad ass. The other swimmers? If only they were as fearless.

Lochte has since told NBC that the gun was never pressed to his head and cocked, backing off the most dramatic part of the tale. He also said it occurred when they stopped at a gas station, not a fake traffic stop. It leaves everyone to wonder what else is untrue. Local media released video Thursday that shows the swimmers being forced to put their hands up then sit on the ground by security after one of them allegedly broke down a bathroom door at the gas station.

Furthermore, Lochte’s timeline didn’t match. No one could explain why robbers would take Lochte’s cash but not his cell phone or jewelry, which he is clearly wearing in security tape as he casually returns to the athlete village. Then there were questions why neither police nor U.S. security was ever called, or why there is no identification of the taxi driver and so on and so on.

It was this nonsense that sent the Brazilians into full investigative mode, first, presumably to see if it was true. The country is desperate to avoid the perception that Rio is too dangerous for tourists and business investment alike.

Lochte alone made this a global story. He won only a single gold here in Rio as part of a U.S. relay team, but past success, his looks and his relentless courting of reality-star fame has made him a big name.

This was a terrible development for Brazil, and when his poorly thought story began falling apart they saw the chance to debunk and save a measure of face while spinning this into a referendum on the honesty of some entitled American. It’s just the kind of thing that will play very well politically in a city that is tired of being told how awful everything is.

There’s more though. Even as Feigen’s passport was being seized per court order and Bentz and Conger were being pulled off their flight home Wednesday night, Lochte couldn’t stop.

His three supposed friends were now in a serious situation. At best, they go through the extreme stress of telling a story that will satisfy the Brazilians not to charge one or all of them with misleading police. At worst, they face criminal charges. If you think American jails are no fun, even for a day or so, wait until you see South America.

What does Lochte, back in the States, do? He gives another interview to NBC where he spoke to Matt Lauer and walked back some details, making the story seem shaky, but doubling down on the main parts – which would only continue to anger the Brazilian authorities. On Thursday, he told TMZ that while he mistook security guards for police, the group was indeed robbed and security footage didn’t show th

Why? Why talk to the media then, while your buddies are in hot water? Why not, for once, just shut up and not get breathless that a Today Show host is on the other end of the line?

Who was that to serve … other than Ryan Lochte?

In the end though, isn’t that what this entire snowballing scandal was about, an attention-seeking swimmer turned C-list celebrity?

What’s clear as dozens and dozens of cameras surround a police precinct here in Rio looking to pounce on his buddies is that Ryan Lochte sure is famous now. He’s got that much going for him.

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