Ryan Lochte strongly denies that he fabricated the story that he and three other U.S. swimmers were robbed at gunpoint early on Sunday morning, telling NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview on Wednesday, August 17, that he “wouldn’t make up a story like this, nor would the others.”
His phone conversation with the Today host came hours after the swimming champ arrived back in the U.S., and two of his teammates at the Rio Olympics, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz, were removed from a home-bound flight and are being questioned by Brazilian authorities.
The athletes were detained on Wednesday after Judge Keyla Blank ordered that Lochte, 32, and the remaining swimmer involved in the incident, Jimmy Feigen, remain in Brazil and have their passports seized. The Associated Press reports that the judge made the move after authorities claimed there were inconsistencies in the pair’s stories about what happened that night.
As Us Weekly previously reported, the foursome left a party in the early hours of Sunday, August 14, when they stopped to use a gas station bathroom, where they were confronted by men who claimed to be police and then pulled out their guns and stole the swimmers’ money and wallets.
NBC News reports that the athletes told authorities they left the party at about 4 a.m., but the judge said images from that location conflict with that timeline, and witnesses say the swimmers were at the party till almost dawn.
Additionally, the judge claimed that Lochte said they were approached by one armed individual, but Feigen said there were “some” armed people.
In his conversation with Lauer on Wednesday, Lochte said that he had always planned to leave Rio when he did, and at the time he gave his statement to authorities, nobody told him to stay in Brazil because authorities might want to speak to him again.
“He went out of his way to say that he told them he was reachable, that he would cooperate, they could get to him through his agent or through his lawyer,” Lauer said on air in an interview with Bob Costas on Wednesday night, adding that Lochte said his meeting with Brazilian police “was casual, it was friendly, it was vague, they didn’t ask him a lot of questions. They did ask him what the gun looked like, what was taken from him. … He seemed somewhat surprised by how few questions they asked him here, considering he just told them he was held up at gunpoint.”
Lauer said that at no point did authorities question Lochte’s truthfulness in his recounting of the incident. “They seemed to support everything he said, and at one point, he said to me they said, ‘Thank you,’ and they congratulated him on his performance here at the Games.”
Costas asked Lauer if Lochte had altered the details of his story in any way during his conversation on Wednesday. “He did,” the newsman said. “He stuck to most of the story. He did change one thing — I would say he softened something or stepped back.”
While Lochte had said in his interview with Billy Bush on Sunday that one of the gunmen had put his gun to his forehead and cocked it, the Olympic champ said on Wednesday that the gun was pointed “in his direction.”
When Lauer asked him about his previous claim about the gun to his head, Lochte told him, “No, that’s not exactly what happened.”
“I think he feels it was more of a traumatic mischaracterization,” Lauer explained. “People listening at home might feel that was embellishment at the time, and that’s up to people to decide.”
Lauer also asked Lochte about claims by some in Rio that he and the other swimmers made up the story to cover up some other form of embarrassing behavior.
“He stopped me quickly,” the morning host told Costas. “He strongly denied that, said it’s absolutely not the case: ‘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.’”