Speaking publicly for the first time, Ryan Lochte says he realizes how “immature” he was for “over-exaggerating” the incident in Rio in which he initially claimed he and three other American swimmers — Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen – were robbed at gunpoint.
The incident, which happened last Sunday (Aug. 14), sparked major criticism against the Brazilian city, but in the ensuing investigation, the authorities were able to ascertain — through video footage and witnesses — that the swimmers actually vandalized a gas station’s bathroom and then got into an altercation with security guards there, who demanded the Olympic athletes pay for the damages.
In an interview with NBC News’ Matt Lauer, Lochte admitted there was never a gun pointed at his forehead. “That didn’t happen and that’s why — I over-exaggerated that part, ” Lochte said, adding the gun was drawn and pointed in his direction but was never at his forehead.
Lauer asked why he’d make something like that up. “I don’t know why,” a chagrined Lochte replied, saying he was still intoxicated when he gave the first statement. “I’m not making me being intoxicated like an excuse, I’m not doing that at all,” Lochte added. “It was my fault and I shouldn’t have said it.”
The 12-time Olympic medalist continued to try to explain his actions. “It’s how you want to make it look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know. All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”
Lochte’s teammate Bentz gave a statement to authorities, explaining a man who spoke English approached them and said the guards needed for them to pay for the damages or they would call the police.
“We just wanted to get out of there,” the swimmer said. “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.”
Didn’t Lochte understand the situation, that it was about paying for some “dumb behavior” not robbery, Lauer queried? “And that’s why I’m taking full responsibility for it,” Lochte responded. “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 behavior.”
The swimmer added, “I’m just embarrassed” and “I know what I did was wrong” during the interview, and showed remorse about bringing the Olympic games down. He also wanted to apologize to the people of Rio and Brazil for making them look bad, especially after all the negative press the city received prior to the Olympic games.
“They put on a great games. The people of Rio or Brazil, the authorities, everyone there put on a great games. And my immature behavior tarnished that a little, and I don’t want that,” Lochte said. “I’m just really sorry and I hope they can accept my apology.”
The International Olympic Committee has launched an investigation into the incident and Lochte’s behavior, and the swimmer could face serious repercussions.
More of the Lochte interview will air Monday (Aug. 22) on the Today show.