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US says sorry as Olympic swimmers leave Brazil to jeers

Police accused them of fabricating a story about being robbed at gunpoint during the Rio Games

Published: Updated:

Two US Olympic swimmers flew home from Brazil on Thursday 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 US Olympic team hopes will be the losing 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 US Olympic Committee (USOC) issued an apology after the departure of Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, who were among four US 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 medallist 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 Thursday 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.