There's something rotten in Rio (and the open-water swimmers reported no complaints when they hit the bay, FYI).
No, it's the stench of a story full of holes, if not plainly an ill-conceived cover-up gone awry, that has unfortunately infiltrated the final days of the 2016 Summer Olympics, which Team USA has dominated so far with 94 medals and counting, nearly twice as many as second-place Great Britain.
At the center of the burgeoning scandal is swimmer Ryan Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist and endorsement magnet who, while generally considered a nice guy, has been a fan favorite partly due to his signature brand of man-ditz (mitz?) he so endearingly yet exhaustively traded on after the 2012 London Olympics.
This is one of those long and winding road stories you just can't make up, so follow along closely. Spit in those goggles so they don't fog up, make sure you've got an extra cap tucked away and let's dive in:
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Rio Begins and Ends for Ryan Lochte: After a disappointing showing in the U.S. Swim trials, Lochte made the 4x200 men's freestyle relay but only qualified for one individual event, the 200-meter medley. He earned his sixth gold medal (and 12th overall) in the relay, in which pal and longtime sort-of rival Michael Phelpsswam the anchor leg. Lochte later won his individual heat, but finished fifth in the final of the 200-meter medley, which Phelps won.
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The 32-year-old Lochte told NBC right after the Aug. 11 race that he needed a break from swimming, "mentally and physically."
"I haven't taken a break since I first started swimming," he reiterated the next morning to Matt Lauer on Today. "The longest break I've taken was a month. Going in, day in and day out, and just beating up your body takes a toll."
And so the swimming portion of the Rio Olympics ended for Lochte.
A Shocking, Disheartening Story: With most of the news out of Rio being of the overwhelmingly positive variety, the rumblings that Lochte and a few teammates had been robbed at gunpoint was most disappointing. There had been some security issues and an instance of fatal violence, when an Olympics police officer was shot after reportedly making a wrong turn into one of Rio's crime-riddled favelas (the Brazilian government declared a national day of mourning). But this was almost a cartoonishly exact instance of what all the naysayers had clucked about before the games began.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 14, came the conflicting reports that Lochte and fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen had been robbed at gunpoint. Conflicting, then, because the International Olympic Committee initially called the reports "not true," the United States Olympic Committee had at first told the IOC it wasn't true, and Lochte's coach reportedly denied it to USA Today. But Lochte's mother, Ileana Lochte, relayed what she had heard from her son to USA Today on Sunday morning, saying, "I think they're all shaken up. There were a few of them. No, they were just, they just took their wallets and basically that was it."
USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky released this statement on Sunday afternoon: "According to four members of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team [the four in question], they left France House early Sunday morning in a taxi headed for the Olympic Village. Their taxi was stopped by individuals posing as armed police officers who demanded the athletes' money and other personal belongings. All four athletes are safe and cooperating with authorities."
What Lochte then told NBC News'Billy Bushthen became the widely quoted version of events:
"We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over," the athlete said. "They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground—they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn't do anything wrong, so—I'm not getting down on the ground.
"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."
Bentz tweeted Sunday, "We are all safe. Thank you for your love and support."
Lochte also tweeted a statement later that afternoon: "I want to thank all of my family, friends and fans for the overwhelming support and concern I have received today. While it is true that my teammates and I were the victims of a robbery early Sunday morning, what is most important is that we are safe and unharmed. I am honored to have represented the U.S. here at the Rio Olympics and to win Gold for my country alongside my teammates. I look forward to getting home so that I can begin to map out the plans for my future with an eye on representing #TeamUSA at the #2020 Tokyo Olympics."
Local police, meanwhile, stated that they were investigating the robbery, a "police inquiry" had been installed and they planned on interviewing the athletes for further details.
But as the story was unfolding and we were reaching out to law enforcement and other relevant parties for information, sources started telling E! News right away that Lochte's story didn't add up, on multiple levels—and the evidence of that has been piling up ever since.
A rep for Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira's told the Washington Post that Lochte had left Club France in a taxi. Video from O Globo showed Lochte with Pereira at the party earlier Saturday night.
"Then Thiago, on finding out what happened, called Ryan," the rep said. "Ryan is well, and Thiago said that the robbery, according to Ryan, was in the taxi. The taxi was robbed."
The doubt started to officially build when Rio police announced this week that they had been unable to corroborate Lochte's story. Investigators said that none of the alleged victims had initially called police, and that they first heard about the incident from media reports.
Lochte told USA Today Sports on Tuesday that they didn't initially report what happened to the USOC because they were afraid they'd get in trouble for going out partying. (All four men are of legal drinking age and swimming was over.)
Jeff Ostrow, Lochte's attorney, said that the swimmer met with representatives from the State Department, FBI, Tourist Police and the USOC security team at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night—the earliest everyone could get together, Ostrow said.
"I know that Ryan didn't want this to turn into what it did," the attorney told USA Today. "The Olympics are more important and Team USA's performances are more important."
IOC spokesman Mark Adams also told the paper Tuesday that when the IOC first reached out to the USOC upon hearing the robbery allegations, USOC officials said they had spoken with Lochte and been told there was no incident.
Surveillance cameras at the Olympic Village, meanwhile, had shown the four swimmers passing through metal detectors near the entrance Sunday morning, and all appeared to be in good spirits.
The Unraveling: On Wednesday, with police still unable to track down witnesses, including the taxi driver, or otherwise confirm any details of Lochte's account, a Rio judge ordered that all four swimmers' passports be seized so that they would have to remain in the country while authorities got to the bottom of the story. Judge Keyla Blanc de Cnop cited the surveillance footage at the Village as well as contradictions in the swimmers' stories, noting that Lochte had said there was one mugger, while Feigen recalled multiple perpetrators but one gun.
Lochte, however, was on his way home already, having taken the flight he says he had previously scheduled, pre-controversy, to leave Rio.
The USOC wouldn't initially divulge any of the swimmers' locations to authorities, but Feigen was ultimately located in Rio after he didn't show up for his scheduled flight—and Bentz and Conger were removed from their flight after having already boarded the plane.
In a phone interview with Matt Lauer last night, Lochte changed a few of the details of his story, but otherwise stuck to it.
Quoting Lochte, Lauer said, "'I wouldn't make up a story like this nor would the others. As a matter of fact, we all feel it makes us look bad. We're victims in this and we're happy that we're safe.'"
The NBC host said Lochte, who first told Bush that a gun was held to his head, instead recalled to Lauer the gun being pointed in his "general direction." Also, Lauer added, now Lochte was saying the hold-up occurred when the taxi pulled into a gas station. (He had previously said they were pulled over by a gunman posing as a cop.)
Bentz and Conger were free to go Wednesday, with the understanding being they'd report back in with authorities Thursday for more questioning, according to USOC spokesman Sandusky. Feigen was also said to be cooperating fully.
"I'm just trying to give Brazil what they need or what they want and get out of here,'' Feigen told USA Today by phone yesterday. "It's a hassle. But I'm safe, everything's fine.''
Boys Behaving Badly: Brazilian law enforcement sources told reporters today that Bentz and Conger admitted to authorities that the robbery story was fabricated.
Authorities then said Thursday morning that the swimmers did indeed stop at a gas station in Barra da Tijucaat around 6 a.m., where they proceeded to use the restroom and caused some sort of damage to the bathroom door. A confrontation with the station manager and a security guard ensued. Police were called, but by the time they arrived the four men were gone and the manager said they had given them some money to pay for the damages.
O Globo reported that the station manager told them that one of the athletes had thrown rocks at the business, tore one of its signs and then urinated in the street. The outlet also obtained video said to be of the athletes at the station—E! News has not independently verified what's on the video.
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The Official Word: This evening, Rio Civil Police chief Fernando Veloso flatly stated at a press conference that "there was no robbery" and one or more of the four swimmers vandalized the gas station.
At one point a security guard pointed a gun at the swimmers in order to get a handle on the commotion, Veloso told reporters, per CNN. Lochte got confrontational with the guards, acting "very angry because he was intoxicated," the chief continued.
Feigen had not yet been interviewed but Bentz and Conger were giving statements, Veloso said. He added, "In theory, one or all of them might be charged for false communication of a crime and for damaging private assets, the gas station. I'm not saying that they are charged right now because of that. We have to finalize the investigation and in theory that could be the case. This is not really a—this kind of crime will not lead to their arrest."
The twisted story has, however, angered locals and the international community who already had to defend Rio from concerns that it was unfit to host the Olympics this summer, citing high levels of crime, sanitation problems, political dysfunction and more socioeconomic ills.
"No apologies from him or the other athletes are needed," Mario Andrada, a spokesman for the Rio Olympics organizing committee, told The New York Times Thursday. "These kids were trying to have fun. They came here they represented their country. They competed under gigantic pressure. But let's give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret."
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