By Ann Killion
The United States' Ryan Lochte checks his time in a men's 4x200-meter freestyle heat during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Lochte and three other American swimmers say they were robbed at gunpoint early Aug. 14.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Congratulations to Ryan Lochte for winning the final race of his Olympic career: the race for most embarrassing American athlete.
We’ve had plenty of embarrassing athletes before. There was figure skater Tonya Harding and her goon squad. There were the American hockey players who trashed their Olympic village room.
But Lochte and three swimming teammates managed to not only embarrass our country, they humiliated the host country in the process.
On Thursday morning, news broke that Brazilian authorities have determined that Lochte’s story about being robbed at gunpoint was fabricated.
Authorities uncovered security footage from a gas station that showed the athletes — Lochte and teammates James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz — involved in some sort of altercation, causing damage.
Turns out that Hope Solo didn’t clinch the title of “Worst Person at the Olympics” after all. She only insulted her competition and former coach, moments after a heartbreaking loss.
Ryan Lochte is seen during the Swimming Press Conference of team USA at the Main Press Center at Olympic Park Barra prior to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
What Lochte did is far worse. He fabricated a story to cover his own butt, and in doing so played on all the fears and stereotypes his Brazilian hosts have been trying to allay. He caused panic among the visitors. He caused an international incident.
Lochte, 34, is a four-time Olympian. What motivated him to make up such a story is beyond my - and probably your - imagination. Was he just scared of Mommy? The story started with his mother telling reporters that Lochte had told her he had been robbed.
Or did he get caught up in trying to be some sort of American maverick? From the start, his story sounded suspicious. He said he refused to get down on the ground when he had a gun pulled on him. Then he added more drama: he had a gun cocked and put against his head before saying “Whatever,” and capitulating. Very Clint Eastwood like, right? But not how many of us would react in real life.
Is it too cliché to call the swimmer’s story “fishy?” The biggest hole for many was that he said the robbers didn’t take his cell phone. Most robbery victims in this country find their phone is the primary target: robbers grab their phones and go.
A Brazilian judge found more discrepancies, including evidence that the timeline Lochte presented didn’t fit, as well as video evidence of them returning to the village at 7 a.m. looking happy (and drunk).
Lochte got out of town. Two of his young teammates, Bentz, 20, and Conger, 21, — who might have just been playing follow the “cool” leader with the dyed-blue hair — were pulled off a plane leaving Rio late Wednesday night and detained by authorities. Feigen, 26, is reportedly still in Brazil.
The story started to unravel Wednesday night. Lochte backed off the story he had originally told NBC. Who knows what the rest said to authorities.
“These kids tried to have fun, they tried to represent their country to the best of their abilities,” Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said Thursday. “They competed under gigantic pressure. Let’s give these kids a break. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”
Kind words of forgiveness, but one of them definitely isn’t a kid. He’s a grown adult who has spent the last 12 years in the Olympic spotlight.
Brazil has enough problems without running around having to determine if an American gold medalist has fabricated a story about crime in its country.
It doesn’t matter what else Lochte has done in his Olympic career. This cemented his legacy: most embarrassing Olympic athlete.
Ann Killion is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist.
Photo: Michael Kappeler/DPA, MBR
Photo: Michael Sohn, Associated Press
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