Going into the Olympics, one of the biggest concerns on the minds of people watching and traveling to Rio to experience the games live was the crime. With reports of local police and firefighters standing in the airport holding banners greeting tourists with, “Welcome to Hell” in yellow and red letters, warning visitors that Rio won’t be safe because law enforcement and the people who are there to protect civilians hardly get paid enough, there was plenty to worry about combined with the city’s high crime rate. Yet crimes against people visiting Rio for the Olympics haven’t been widely reported. It seemed as if, at least for the few weeks around and during the Olympics, Rio had things under control.
That’s probably why the news over the weekend of four American swimmers held up and robbed early Sunday morning after a night of partying came as a surprise. That, and one of the group was Ryan Lochte, one of the most recognizable athletes competing in Rio. A famous gold medal winner being held up at gunpoint during the Olympics tarnished the reputation the city had tried so desperately to fix up with the entire world watching. Lochte went on American television and gave his story, and that was supposed to be that. They were robbed by a fake police officer, Rio dropped the ball, and everybody was going home to forget about it.
Then things started to unravel. Yesterday, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz, two of the swimmers also allegedly robbed along with Lochte, were blocked from boarding their flight back home and are currently being detained. Jimmy Feigen, also of Team USA, is also being detained in Rio. He told USA Today, that he was safe, and that, “I’m just trying to give Brazil what they need or what they want and get out of here.” Lochte, meanwhile, is back in the United States.
So what, exactly, happened? What does Brazil want or need from the swimmers?
According to Lochte, talking to The Today Show just a few hours after the robbery was said to have taken place, the men dressed like officers told him and the other swimmers to get down on the ground, Lochte refused. “And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet – he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.” Video footage from a little while later shows the swimmers reentering the Olympic Village, obviously not in the best shape.
While tourists getting robbed when they go to unfamiliar cities is nothing new, the attention this case was getting meant local authorities were paying extra close attention to every little detail, and a judge felt the stories just didn’t synch up. The swimmers said they were at a party that they left around 4 o’clock in the morning, while the judge says the images taken and posted on social media conflict with that story. Witnesses also claim Lochte and the swimmers remained at the party until nearly daybreak, after the time when they claimed to have been held at gunpoint. The fake police story also doesn’t match, as Lochte claims there was one robber, while Feigen said there were multiple people involved, but he couldn’t give an exact number. Then there’s the video of the swimmers returning home. To the judge, the swimmers look totally unshaken, not like people who’d just been robbed.
Of course, these are world-class athletes who swim in front of millions of people we’re talking about. Looking at a video of them trying to keep it under control probably doesn’t tell the entire story, but their stories don’t add up for whatever reason. Why, exactly, we don’t know just yet. And now with the news of British athletes reportedly being robbed, there’s worry things are unraveling as we head toward the end of the Olympics this weekend. The one thing right now that is for certain is that somebody in Rio thinks the American swimmers haven’t been truthful about what happened that night, and the swimmers aren’t leaving until there are some clearer answers.
Update: According to news sources, Ryan Lochte and the three swimmers fabricated their story and were caught on video fighting with a gas station attendant.