U.S. says sorry as swimmers leave Brazil to jeers

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RIO DE JANEIRO: Two U.S. Olympic swimmers flew home from Brazil on Friday after a local crowd jeered them, calling them “liars” and “fakes”, and police accused them of fabricating a story about being robbed at gunpoint during the Rio Games.
Their departure marked what the U.S. Olympic team hopes will be the closing stages of an incident that has embarrassed the host city, angered the police and government, unleashed a storm on social media, and dominated news coverage of South America’s first Olympics.
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) issued an apology after the departure of Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, who were among four U.S. swimmers shown to have lied about being stopped by gunmen posing as police in the early hours of Sunday.
“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,” USOC chief Scott Blackmun said in a statement.
It confirmed police accusations, including that one of the swimmers had vandalized the gas station after the group stopped there to use the bathroom during a taxi ride back to the Athletes’ Village from a late-night party in the city.
After days of standing by the swimmers’ story, the USOC backed up other police evidence, including a security video showing the swimmers in an argument with staff at the Shell service station.
“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,” it said, adding that the guards allowed the swimmers to leave once some cash had been handed over.
Apart from Bentz and Conger, the incident involved gold medalist Ryan Lochte, one of America’s most decorated swimmers and the most outspoken about the robbery, and Jimmy Feigen, who also won a gold medal in Rio.
Lochte had returned to the United States on Monday.
Feigen revised his police statement on Friday in the hope of securing the release of his passport, the USOC said.
“The behavior of these athletes is not acceptable…,” the USOC said, adding that it would further review the incident and assess any potential consequences for the athletes.
USA Swimming said it could also take possible action.
During the two weeks of the Rio Games, the sporting action has been competing for headlines against a series of muggings and armed robberies of high-profile athletes and visitors in Rio de Janeiro, including two government ministers.
None created more embarrassment for Rio than Lochte’s statement that a robber had at one point put a gun to Lochte’s forehead and demanding the group’s wallets.
Rio’s police chief denounced the story on Friday.
“There was no robbery as the swimmers described it,” civil police chief Fernando Veloso told a news conference, adding that it would be noble and dignified if the swimmers were to apologize to the people of Rio.
Brazil’s Presidential Chief of Staff, Eliseu Padilha, chimed in, saying the swimmers should be held accountable.
GloboNews reported that police were recommending prosecutors charge Lochte and Feigen with falsely reporting a crime. But a police source later told Reuters that this had not yet happened.
Neither Lochte nor Feigen could be contacted for comment.