Yahoo! Sports writer Dan Wetzel has covered many major sports stories over his career but nothing has been quite like his day yesterday in Rio while covering the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“I’ve covered a bunch of celebrity trials, sports trials, arraignments, perp walks, you name it, and it was the wildest circus you will ever see,” Wentzel said about the crowd that gathered outside a Rio Tourist Police Station, waiting for American swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger to be questioned about a robbery their friend and teammate Ryan Lochte, who by that time had already left the country, claimed happened.
“You just have so much international media here. There was at least 300 reporters, cameraman, satellite trucks, everything, just descended on this police station,” Wetzel continued. “It was kind of like a precinct police station, so it wasn’t a big huge one, just crowded in the lobby, out on the steps, on the parking lots, sidewalk, everywhere, all waiting for the swimmers to show up. They tried to hustle them in. It was just a total circus. There’s no quartering off people or putting fence around, it was a total free for all. It was pretty fun.”
Of course, Lochte originally claimed he, Bentz, Conger and another swimmer, James Feign, were robbed at gunpoint Sunday morning. However, Rio police used security camera footage to determine the athletes were not indeed robbed, but had vandalized a bathroom at a gas station. Wetzel said the blame lies on the most decorated swimmer of the bunch.
“It’s all Lochte. I mean these guys, as they go, they get drunk, they act like buffoons at the gas station, whatever,” Wetzel said. “You’re in a different country and you’ve got to understand you’re in a different country, and they’re lectured and trained, and this guy is 32 and he’s competed all over the world. This is not L.A. This is not New York. This is Rio. People are carrying guns. If you pull up to a gas station, it’s very likely a guy, not with a gun, but with like a rifle standing there.
“And you have to understand you are in a different place and a whole different culture, and so when somebody tells you have to pay for the stuff you damaged, and you agree to do it, and you get back in that taxi, you drive away and you laugh and talk about that at reunions for the rest of your life, you know, remembered that night in Rio.”
Wetzel said the story should have been finished there, but Lochte made it into an international story and says Brazilian authorities only pursued the story because the swimmer made them look bad.
“What you don’t do is A, tell your mom, and B, go on repeated interviews on national television and tell everyone about it, and then embellish it and make it even more crazier, and then tell the police a story that didn’t exist,” Wetzel said. “Lochte created the crime if you will, and it’s like a misdemeanor, but still, he created the whole thing, because he can’t stop seeking attention, and so what the police had no interest in ever investigating at the gas station, they don’t care, they have murders, kidnapping, serious stuff going on here, they don’t care about a couple guys having it out with a gas station, but he creates the whole thing and the next thing you know, it is a massive international incident overwhelming the Olympics to throw out all the coverage out down here. You got the State Department, the US Consulate involved. I mean, guys are getting pulled off airplanes. This is the biggest absurd no story that became a big story, because Ryan Lochte couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”
Wetzel believes Lochte just loves attention and can’t imagine the other three swimmers being very happy with him at the moment.
“He thrives from that reality TV basic Hollywood publicity machine and can’t get away from it,” Wetzel said. “There’s a scene the New York Times reported; the State Department, and the Consulate and the USOC got the four swimmers together after the incident before news stories broke, and they had a meeting at what they called the US House. It’s a couple buildings that the US take over, and they have a meeting. It’s on Ipanema Beach, and they have a meeting, and the State Department guys say lay low, be quiet, and get on your planes and go home, and that’s what you need to do with this situation. The other three get it, and say nothing, Ryan Lochte walks out of that meeting directly across the street and sits down for an interview with Billy Bush, Access Hollywood, where he tells the whole wild story that creates the problem.
“Like when the State Department is telling you how to act in another country, listen, because it’s a real simple thing because they know what they’re talking about. He goes opposite route and that’s why we have this whole thing. So fortunately, everybody is home, it’s all going to move on, people are going to laugh about it in the long run, but if I’m one of those other three guys, I’m not happy with Ryan Lochte, and I want him to chip in on my $10,000 fine I had to pay to get out of the country.”