So which is it? Were 12-time Olympic swimming champion Ryan Lochte and three fellow swimmers robbed at gunpoint as they returned to the Olympic Village during the Rio Games? Or did they invent the story to cover up a drunken night on the town? Or are Rio officials trying to cover up an unsavory aspect of these summer games, the lawlessness of the host city?
It’s hard to know in a twisting tale that now has a Brazilian judge now seeking to detain Lochte, who has already left the country, and James Feigen. Often, though, the truth in a mystery lies between two viewpoints. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that Lochte, Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz left Club France, a French promotional venue where they were partying, early on the morning of Aug. 14. Here’s where things get sticky. According to Lochte – who initially denied the story reported by his mother, Ileana – he and the other swimmers were held up at gunpoint after their cab was pulled over by so-called police. They said they left the club at 4 a.m. but video shows them leaving close to 6 a.m. – about an hour before they arrived back at the Olympic Village apparently in good spirits. They admittedly had been drinking, which may account for the discrepancy in time and why they couldn’t remember much about the cab.
So did they lie about being robbed, and, if so, what would be their motive? Lochte has already said they were afraid they would get into trouble. But with whom and for what? The swimming portion of the games was already over and Lochte has always had a reputation as something of a free spirit. Why make up such an elaborate lie then?
As for the fact that their credentials and cells weren’t taken, why would they be? Cells, jewelry, IDs of famous people are no use to thieves looking for a quick score. To such robbers, cash, and only cash, is king.
And what about the motives of Brazilian authorities in all this? From The New York Times article:
“While controversy simmers over the episode, it is not uncommon for the police in Rio to be implicated in armed assaults of both Brazilians and foreigners.
“Shortly before the start of the Olympics, Jason Lee, a 27-year-old jujitsu champion from New Zealand, said he was briefly kidnapped here by police officers and forced to withdraw the equivalent of about $800 from his bank account.”
Let us also not forget the press bus that was pelted with rocks. This is a land of haves and many have nots. That’s no excuse for violent behavior. But it helps to make it intelligible.
As for Lochte, whom I’ve covered many times, he is a world-class athlete and beauty with a big heart who signs every child’s autograph and gives away all of his medals except the Olympic ones. I remember reading about an instance after the World Aquatic Championships in Turkey in which he gave a local kid one of those medals. The expression of sheer joy on that child’s face was wonderful and heartbreaking to behold.
But Lochte has always been a few floors short of an observation deck as well. In Beijing, he caught a stomach bug that jeopardized his performance in the 2008 games, because he failed to read information about not using the local water to brush his teeth. His goofiness is part of his appeal.
Let’s just hope it won’t land him in more hot water.