Two American swimmers were pulled off an airplane, their passports confiscated, and were held by Rio de Janeiro police for four hours, as everyone tries to get to the bottom of what in the hell is going on, and what happened early Sunday morning when four swimmers claimed they were robbed at gunpoint. We’re reaching full-on scandal levels here, and meanwhile Ryan Lochte, (in this sense at least) the smartest of the four, got himself the heck out of Brazil days ago.
Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz (above) were removed from their plane last night and detained in the expectation that they would give police more details about the alleged robbery on Sunday. The two were definitely eager to leave—Bentz was at the airport at 4 p.m., according to a USA Today reporter who spoke to him by phone, more than five hours before his flight was scheduled to depart.
O Globo reports the pair were more than four hours in a police station at the airport, but did not talk with police. An attorney representing them criticized the seizing of their passports, which he said made it unclear whether they were being considered witnesses or suspects, and advised them not to answer any questions until their status was cleared up.
Police did not find a third swimmer, James Feigen, who was scheduled to be on the same flight as Conger and Bentz. In an interview with USA Today last night, Feigen said he was still in Rio and intends to cooperate with authorities.
Ryan Lochte, meanwhile, is back home—he got out of the country on Tuesday, before all this shit started to hit the fan. He spoke by phone to NBC’s Matt Lauer yesterday, and in an odd, compelling bit of TV, Lauer described their conversation to Bob Costas on last night’s Olympic broadcast.
Lauer said the medal-winning swimmer “softened” or “stepped back” elements of his story, including details of how his alleged attackers approached Lochte’s taxi. Lochte initially said the robbers, posing as police, pulled the taxi over, but he told Lauer that the taxi had stopped at a gas station so the swimmers could use the bathroom. When they returned to the taxi and asked the driver to leave, Lochte said, the driver didn’t respond, and the swimmers were subsequently accosted.
Lochte also told Lauer that the gun was “pointed in my direction,” which differs from his original characterization of the gun being put to his head.
Lauer said Lochte insisted they were victims of a crime, strongly denied that the robbery story was a cover story for anything else, and blamed the trauma of the hold-up for any inconsistencies in his story.
It was those inconsistencies, along with a lack of specifics offered by the alleged victims, that led a judge to order the swimmers in for more questioning. (Lochte and Feigen had previously given their accounts to the FBI, the U.S. State Department, USOC security, and Rio tourist police—Conger and Bentz, as far as we know, haven’t formally spoken to authorities.) The judge also cited surveillance video of the foursome arriving back at the Olympic village, in which she said they looked unconcerned and even joking around. The Daily Mail has obtained that video:
There is a lot going on here, and it’s all very messy, and by this point everyone has their own suppositions—we’re being emailed reports of the (entirely uninformed) rumors circulating around Rio, and they’re exactly what you think they might be—but the important thing to remember is that we never would have heard a word about this if Ryan Lochte hadn’t told his mother. Lochte said they didn’t initially report the robbery “because we were afraid we’d get in trouble,” and it was only after Lochte’s mother talked to the media that the IOC, USOC, and police got involved. Ryan Lochte talked to his mom and started an international incident.
Update, 9:45 a.m.: This is all about to get even more interesting: