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Ryan Lochte made up robbery story to cover up gas station damage, say Brazilian police

This is the dumbest international incident ever.

Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

Ryan Lochte's story about an armed robbery in Rio de Janeiro is a fabrication designed to distract from an encounter with security at a gas station, Brazilian police said Thursday.

The New York Times reports that police say the swimmers — Lochte and fellow American swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and James Feigen — stopped at a gas station on a taxi ride home from a party at an Olympic hospitality house, where they did damage to a bathroom door and had a discussion with the manager and a security guard — before, witnesses say, paying the manager.

But while police were called to the scene, the swimmers left before they arrived.

That missed opportunity to question the swimmers and Lochte's sensational story of armed robbery — told first to his mother, seemingly, whose accounts to media first publicized what has become one of the great sagas of these Olympics, and later including the vivid detail of a gun held to his head before that detail was dropped as part of an altered story told to NBC's Matt Lauer — have led Brazilian authorities to pursue this case with fervor, with a judge ordering the seizure of the swimmers' passports on Wednesday, despite Lochte having already returned to the United States, and authorities removing Bentz and Conger from a flight out of Brazil late Wednesday.

Those two swimmers told authorities that Lochte had fabricated the story.

The most logical through line of events seems like this: Lochte and the three others swimmers got drunk, maybe very drunk, after the end of Olympic swimming competition, and then got into some sort of altercation at a gas station that produced damage, then — perhaps thanks to Lochte lying to his mother — told a lie to cover up that relatively minor misdeed.

That all really seems like "People got drunk and did dumb stuff" to me, rather than something that makes Lochte "everything the world hates about Americans," though your mileage may vary. But it's also true that the party line from the Rio Olympics organizing committee, which cast the swimmers as "kids" who "came here to have fun," is patronizing and infantilizing at best.

Lochte is 32, and while none of his swimming compatriots that night was older than 26, they were all adults who should have been well aware of both the idea that laws do exist in Brazil, and that they represented more than themselves with their actions. That Lochte, in one of the truly remarkable developments of modern history, hatched a plan that got himself out of the country ahead of police scrutiny, shows that he does have a functioning brain — even if the stunning stupidity of the plan suggests it can malfunction, too.

This is more about his silly attempt to save face than anything else now. If Lochte et al. did damage, but came to some agreement to make restitution and then spoke to police about the night, surely this would have never made more than a brief blip. Instead, it's a legitimate international incident.

Lochte added another Olympic gold medal to the 11 he had previously won in Rio, tying him with Jenny Thompson for the second-most won by a swimmer in Olympic history behind an absurd 28-medal haul that defines the Olympic career of Michael Phelps.

Thompson is now a practicing anesthesiologist in Maine, whose sedate life includes NPR interviews. It would not be a stretch to say she might be a better role model to look to than Lochte is.