US gold medalist Ryan Lochte has told Brazil's largest TV network that he exaggerated his robbery claims, but insisted he did not lie. The swimmer initially claimed he was mugged at gunpoint in Rio.
"I'm sorry," Lochte said in an interview aired on Brazil's "Globo TV" Saturday night, adding that "Brazil doesn't deserve that."
The apology aired a few minutes after Brazil's soccer team beat Germany 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out at the Rio Olympics, with a huge number of viewers staying on to watch one of America's most decorated swimmers speak to the nation.
His tale of being robbed at gunpoint at a Rio de Janeiro gas station was initially a major embarrassment for the host nation, until local police accused the 32-year-old swimmer of making up the story to cover up the fact he had vandalized a gas station.
During Saturday's interview, the Olympian insisted that he was a victim of extortion because he was forced by armed guards to hand over money.
"I wasn't lying to a certain extent, I over-exaggerated what was happening to me," he told the broadcaster.
If I had told the entire story, none of this would have happened...if I had not told this story, the entire attention would be on the Games," he added.
In a separate interview with the US network "NBC," Lochte also apologized to his swimming teammates, Jimmy Feigen, 26, Jack Conger, 21, and Gunnar Bentz, 20, who police stopped from leaving Brazil over the incident.
Although Lochte had already left Brazil, three of his teammates were pulled off a plane to the US as the scandal unfolded
Lochte said he was "hurt" by footage showing his teammates being taken off a plane and held back in Brazil as part of the police investigation. He initially apologized on social media after the scandal came to light.
"I mean, I let my team down and you know, I don't want them to think I left them out to dry," he said.
He said he'd waited until his teammates had returned to the US before speaking publicly about the incident again, adding that he took "full responsibility" for what happened.
Teammates come clean
In a statement on Friday, Bentz said the group was in a taxi in the early hours of last Sunday when they pulled over to use the toilets at a petrol station.
"There was no restroom inside, so we foolishly relieved ourselves on the backside of the building behind some bushes," he said.
"I am unsure why, but while we were in that area, Ryan pulled to the ground a framed metal advertisement that was loosely anchored to the brick wall," he continued.
Two security guards then demanded the swimmers get out of their taxi and pulled their guns on them, he said.
When asked whether he had struck a deal to make sure the story didn't become a bigger incident, Lochte told "NBC": "We just wanted to get out of there. There was a gun pointed in our direction, we were all frightened."
Feigen's Brazilian lawyer Breno Melaragno told the "O Globo" newspaper Saturday that his client was the victim of extortion. He said that the armed guards at the gas station forced the four US swimmers to pay for damages instead of calling police, which, he argued, was itself a crime.
Feigen was ordered to pay a fine amounting to about $11,000 (9,540 euros) to charity for his role in the scandal.
mm/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)