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A Rio Gas Station May Be the Real Victim in U.S. Olympic Swimmer Scandal

Brazilian police say that Lochte fabricated the robbery story after he and other U.S. swimmers vandalized a gas station.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18:  U.S Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz (R) and Jack Conger leave the police headquarters at International departures of Rio de Janiero's Galeo International airport on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The swimmers were removed from their flight departing for the United States by Brazilian authorities to give more information about a reported armed robbery earlier in the week which included fellow U.S swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feign.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18: U.S Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz (R) and Jack Conger leave the police headquarters at International departures of Rio de Janiero's Galeo International airport on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The swimmers were removed from their flight departing for the United States by Brazilian authorities to give more information about a reported armed robbery earlier in the week which included fellow U.S swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feign. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The story of a group of four U.S. Olympic swimmers getting robbed at gunpoint seemed to confirm everything we know about the troubled Rio games. Now it seems the story may instead confirm everything we know about what happens when young Americans get drunk and behave badly in Latin America.

The group of Olympians — which included Ryan Lochte, who has won multiple medals over the course of his career, as well as lesser-known athletes James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz — originally claimed that their taxi had stopped on their way back to the Olympic Village after a party early Sunday morning. Lochte told reporters that a man with a police badge then pointed a gun at his head and forced him and the others to lie on the ground while robbers took their money and wallets.

The days following the incident were marked by confusion, with the International Olympic Committee at first stated that the robbery had not occurred, and then retracting that statement.

Lochte, who starred in a reality TV show in 2013 called “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” defended his version of events on social media. “While it is true that my teammates and I were robbed early Sunday morning, what is most important is that we are safe and unharmed,” he wrote in an Instagram post on Monday.

However, details quickly began to shift, and by Wednesday night, Lochte was telling Matt Lauer that in fact no one had pointed a gun at his head, but had waved it in his “general directon.” He also revised the part of the story where he said that the athletes were pulled over. Instead, he said, they stopped at a gas station.

That could be because an incident did occur at a gas station, though not exactly as Lochte has described. Brazilian police now say that during the time that the swimmers claim they were robbed, they were actually destroying the property of a small business owner and peeing all over a gas station.

Authorities in Rio say that the athletes broke down the door of the gas station bathroom and peed outside before they were confronted by an armed security guard (who did not brandish his weapon) and the owner of the gas station, who asked them to pay for the door.

“They stopped next to the gas station, and urinated outside right next to the gas station. We even have images of one of the athlete’s butts, as he is pulling up his pants,” the gas station owner reportedly said.

An unnamed police officer told the Associated Press that Conger and Bentz have already admitted that the robbery story was fabricated.

After the incident, Lochte apparently told his mother that he had been robbed — but didn’t alert authorities. He told USA Today that he did not initially report the alleged robbery because “we were afraid we’d get in trouble.”

And now they may indeed be in trouble. Lochte was back in the United States by Tuesday afternoon, but on Wednesday, a judge barred the other swimmers from leaving the country. Conger and Bentz were pulled off their flight from Rio Thursday morning and by early Thursday afternoon had arrived at a police station to give statements.

Police told the Observador that they still have not located James Feigen.

Photo credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert
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