USOC apologizes to Brazil for swimmers' actions

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RIO DE JANEIRO — The U.S. Olympic Committee issued an apology Thursday night to “our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil” for the role played by four American swimmers in what turned out to be an international incident resulting from Ryan Lochte’s report of an alleged robbery at gunpoint.

“The behavior of these athletes is not acceptable, nor does it represent the values of Team USA or the conduct of the vast majority of its members,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun in a release. “We will further review the matter, and any potential consequences for the athletes, when we return to the United States.”

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Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger all were embroiled in controversy resulting from Lochte and Feigen reporting a robbery early Sunday morning. A subsequent Brazilian investigation disputed that claim, resulting in the detention of Feigen, Bentz and Conger. Lochte already had left the country by the time a judge ordered him to stay.

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Bentz and Conger left Brazil Thursday night. Feigen, according to the USOC release, is still attempting to gain his release to go home after providing “a revised statement” to authorities. Feigen, like Lochte, had alleged that the four were robbed.

Ryan Lochte claimed he was robbed at gunpoint. (Reuters)
Ryan Lochte claimed he was robbed at gunpoint. (Reuters)

“Two U.S. Olympic swimmers [Bentz and Conger] have given statements to local authorities today regarding the incident first reported on Sunday, August 14, 2016. Their passports have been released and they recently departed Rio.

“After providing a statement earlier in the week, a third [Feigen] provided a revised statement this evening with the hope of securing the release of his passport as soon as possible.

“Working in collaboration with the U.S. Consulate in Rio, we have coordinated the athletes’ cooperation with local authorities and ensured their safety throughout the process, but we have not seen the full statements provided by Bentz and Conger.

“However, we understand that they describe the events that many have seen on surveillance video made publicly available today. As we understand it, the four athletes … left France House early in the morning of August 14 in a taxi headed to the Olympic Village. They stopped at a gas station to use the restroom, where one of the athletes committed an act of vandalism. An argument ensued between the athletes and two armed gas station security staff, who displayed their weapons, ordered the athletes from their vehicle and demanded the athletes provide a monetary payment. Once the security officials received money from the athletes, the athletes were allowed to leave.

“On behalf of the United States Olympic Committee, we apologize to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence.

“With three days remaining in the Olympic Games, our primary focus will remain on supporting the athletes who are still competing and celebrating the achievements of those who have finished.”

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USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus released his own statement, saying the organization “does not condone the lapse in judgement and conduct” by the swimmers.

“It is not representative of what is expected as Olympians, as Americans, as swimmers and as individuals,” the statement said.

“That this is drawing attention away from Team USA’s incredible accomplishments in the water and by other athletes across the Olympic Games is upsetting. The athletes and their remarkable stories should be the focus.

“We’re extremely thankful of the support and efforts from the USOC, Department of State and U.S. Consulate General throughout this process. USA Swimming will undergo a thorough review of the incident and determine any further actions, per our Code of Conduct.”

Brazilian police officials said the swimmers had a gun pointed at them by a security officer after they vandalized a gas station bathroom, but were not victims of a robbery or other violence.

American swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger leave the police station Thursday night. (Reuters)
American swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger leave the police station Thursday night. (Reuters)

The swimmers would likely have to pay a fine if they were found guilty of providing false testimony or property damage but would not face prison time, police said Thursday.

The group of swimmers damaged a door to a bathroom at a local gas station after arriving there in a taxi following a party early Sunday, police said. Video footage shows security confronting the swimmers. The group gave money for the broken door, and, police said, a security guard brandished a gun because he was concerned about the swimmers’ size and intoxication level.

Feigen told the San Antonio Express-News earlier Thursday that the group was robbed. Lochte also continued to maintain his story in an interview with TMZ, saying the security video doesn’t show the complete altercation because three minutes of it had been edited out.

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Lochte and Feigen initially filed a police report saying the four swimmers were held up at gunpoint. That alleged incident started a firestorm and further heightened security concerns, but Brazilian officials started questioning Lochte’s account of what happened in the past few days.

Bentz and Conger were detained at the Rio de Janeiro International Airport as they were attempting to fly home. The two originally cleared customs but were removed from their flight and prevented from leaving the country. They were taken to a local police station late Wednesday and were released after a few hours with the understanding they will meet again with authorities on Thursday.

Wednesday morning, a Brazilian judge ordered Lochte and Feigen to surrender their passports as part of their investigation into the robbery claim. Lochte, however, had already returned to the United States.

In a phone interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Lochte stood by the majority of his story of what happened in the early hours of Sunday morning. He insisted he was robbed, and that a gun was pointed at him – although he backed away from his previous assertion that the gun was pressed against his forehead. Lochte told Lauer that his police interview when he filed his report was “casual” and “friendly,” and that the authorities never doubted his truthfulness.

“No [apologies] from [Lochte] or other athletes are needed,” IOC Rio Games spokesperson Mario Andrada said. “We have to understand that these kids were trying to have fun. 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.”

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