This week’s Olympic international incident began with four guys taking an unauthorized bathroom break.
University of Georgia junior and U.S. Swim Team member Gunnar Bentz, who made it home to Atlanta Friday after being detained by Rio authorities amid their investigation into a concocted robbery report, released a lengthy statement detailing what went down.
He and teammates Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte were returning from a party early Sunday morning when their cab stopped at a convenience store for a pit stop.
“There was no restroom inside, so we foolishly relieved ourselves on the backside of the building behind some bushes,” Bentz’ statement read. For some reason, Lochte then got into a brawl with a metal sign. (TMZ posted photos of the cracked sign, a sandwich ad).
Bentz said he suggested the quartet beat it, but security guards arrived, badges displayed and weapons drawn. Lochte began feuding with the guard, according to Bentz’ account.
“I cannot speak to his actions, but Ryan stood up and began to yell at the guards,” Bentz’ statement said. “After Jack and I both tugged at him in an attempt to get him to sit back down, Ryan and the security guards had a heated verbal exchange, but no physical contact was made.”
After handing over about $70 in cash, the swimmers were allowed to leave.
“Without question, I am taking away a valuable life lesson from this situation,” Bentz’ statement read. “In everything I do, I am representing my family, my country and my school. I will not take that responsibility lightly.”
The incident has headlines for days, threatening to detract attention from athletes’ triumphs. Bentz himself has made history, becoming the the first male swimmer from the University of Georgia to win an Olympic gold medal, but for the moment at least, he’s likely better known for his involvement in either Loch Mess or Lochtegate, depending on which Twitter hashtag you prefer.
He and Conger arrived home Friday after being yanked off an earlier plane while authorities in Rio de Janeiro investigated. Feigen made a deal with a Brazilian judge to pay $10,800 to a charity to avoid prosecution.
Bentz, who attended St. Pius X, made his Twitter account private as the controversy unfolded, but updates he’d posted earlier illustrated how thrilled he was to be in Rio.
“Finally get to represent my country at the biggest stage tomorrow,” he tweeted on Aug. 8. The next day he retweeted UGA hero Herschel Walker, who wrote, “I want to congratulate all of the UGA Olympians! Watching you guys perform makes me proud to be a part of UGA!!”
He also retweeted the UGA Swim and Dive account’s post showing a photo of him marching behind standard bearer Michael Phelps during the opening ceremonies.
Criminal charges were possible for vandalism or filing a false charge. But that seemed less likely Friday with all but one of the swimmers back on American soil.
Michael Griffith, a New York-based international criminal defense attorney called the charges “almost a joke.” Griffith counts the subject of the film “Midnight Express” among his clients.
“These are not serious charges,” said Griffith, who lived in Buckhead and studied at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta.
He called the Brazilian police’s handling of the case a “payback” for the perceived embarrassment the swimmers caused them. Now that they are back on U.S. soil, Griffith said, the swimmers won’t face any consequences.
“What are we talking about here? We are talking about a broken toilet and a report, which they fudged?”
Lochte, a failed reality TV star who has lucrative endorsements, stood to lose the most. His early version of events had the would-be robbers holding a gun to his head. That version evolved. His also released a statement on Friday, apologizing for “not being more careful and candid” in describing what happened to him and fellow U.S. Swim Team members.
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country,” he wrote.
Back in Atlanta, colorful congratulatory signs adorned Bentz’ home, and while he came in for some online scorn, there were messages of support, too.
Child actor JP Vanderloo, who has appeared in movies including “Wish You Well” and “Singularity,” tweeted a photo of Bentz’s Olympic trials badge — a gift from the swimmer to the young artist.
“Thank you so much for your Olympic Trials Badge,” JP wrote to his hero. “My favorite trials souvenir!”