UPDATE with video: In an interview today with NBC’s Matt Lauer that was heavily promoted and aired during the network’s primetime Rio Olympics coverage, U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte faced the music, somewhat, over his debunked claims of being robbed at gunpoint last weekend in Rio. He told Lauer that “I over-exaggerated that story.” A portion of the interview aired Sunday, with the remainder scheduled to be shown Monday during NBC Nightly News.
Lochte made international headlines last Sunday when he told Brazilian police that he, along with Team USA teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and James Feigen, had been robbed by men posing as law enforcement officers. Video evidence, witness testimony, and a detailed statement given by Bentz painted a different picture, however. Following an off-site event, the swimmers had urinated outside of a locked gas station restroom, after which Lochte vandalized a sign. Security guards who arrived on the scene then demanded repayment for the damaged property, drawing their weapons after Lochte became belligerent.
In the interview with Lauer today, Lochte — as was the case in an apology issued yesterday — took “full responsibility,” but did not appear to directly address the specific charges of vandalism. He did however maintain that circumstances were confusing and frightening.
“It’s how you want to make it look like,” he said when asked why he’d presented himself as a victim to authorities and to the media. “Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know. All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”
“We just wanted to get out of there. We were all just frightened,’ Lochte added when pressed on the matter. “And we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. And the only way we know is — this guy saying, ‘You have to give him money.’ So we gave him money and we got out.”
Under normal circumstances, the Lochte interview would have been a huge get, but this time out there wasn’t the usual pursuit by rival news organizations. Thanks to NBC’s multibillion-dollar, multi-year deal on Olympics broadcasts that gives it exclusive access to Olympians, Lochte was a lock for the Peacock network. In addition, insiders at many news operations fully expected Lauer to get first crack at the Olympian in any event. After all, as industry executives pointed out, Lochte lied to Lauer about the event earlier in the week.
Lisa DeMoraes contributed to this post.