Ryan Lochte and the Rio robbery that never was

Image credit: Vanity Fair
Image credit: Vanity Fair

Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who won gold in a relay race at this year’s Olympics, has gone from being in pool water to hot water.

According to Lochte and three fellow swimmers, criminals posing as armed policemen pulled their taxicab over and threatened them with guns. Lochte alleged that the criminals, dressed as policemen, stole their wallets at gunpoint before driving away. Lochte returned home to the United States and made his case to American news outlets, days later. Meanwhile in Rio, the (real) Brazilian police investigation started shakily. The police argued that the American swimmers’ story was vague and that they had only started investigating in response to the swimmers’ media attention, rather than to a police phone call.

The Rio police concluded that the swimmers’ story was unreliable. Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were detained in Rio for police questioning, after being physically removed from flights they were boarding destined for the United States. Four days after the armed robbery had supposedly occurred, video footage of the four Americans emerged, showing them breaking into a petrol station to use the bathrooms, even scuffling with an attendant. Their behaviour in the footage was deemed inconsistent with victims of armed robbery, by the Brazilain Judge

Jimmy Feigen, one of the swimmers, whose passport is currently in the possession of the Rio police, has offered to donate $10,800 to a Brazilian charity in the hope of apologising for the confusion. The Mayor of Rio may have accepted this apology, but the apparent dishonesty of the Olympic gold-medal-winning athletes has brought unwanted negative attention to the American Olympic team. Lochte has paid the biggest price in the eyes of the media and the American public, both for his questionable statement, and for attempting to carry on as if nothing has happened. A columnist for the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins, expressed her frustration at Lochte, “the dumbest bell who ever rang,” who is “done” being a public figure, a fate Jenkins believes he deserves. The New York Post calls him simply “the ugly American.” While the reality of the events is still unclear, the publicity it has brought has damaged the integrity of these young, promising Olympians.

This year’s Olympics in Rio has been a great success for the American team. At the time of writing, the American athletes have won the greatest number of gold Olympic medals and hold the most medals in total. With so many athletes involved in one of the biggest doping scandals of modern sport, sponsored by their own state, it was the Russian team that was expected to be remembered for its dishonesty at this Olympics; instead, Lochte and his swim team are the names on everyone’s lips.

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Jack Harvey

Alumni & Public Relations Officer at The Yorker
Comment and Politics Editor 2015/2016, Editor 2016/2017, Alumni & Public Relations Officer 2017/2018 and acting, 2018/2019. Waiting to graduate with MA in Philosophy at University of York in 2019.