By now, most of us have heard of the Ryan Lochte controversy or as popular culture has labeled the event, Lochtegate. If, for some reason, you have been caught unaware of one of the biggest PR catastrophes caused by the US Olympic Swim Team, here is a brief rundown of what has occurred. Lochte, an American competitive swimmer, is well known for his many swimming accomplishments, such as his 12 Olympic medals (the second most in swimming behind Michael Phelps) and for his short course dominance which has earned him 21 Gold medals at the world championships. Recently, Lochte has been mentioned far less for his swimming ability and more for his ability to down copious amounts of alcohol. The swimmer has been harshly criticized for his partying habits by fellow athletes and in more recent news, he has been in the spotlight for lying about his involvement in a transaction at a Rio gas station.
“I think that, for now at least, this is one of the greatest embarrassments of American Olympics in this century,” said senior Alex Shorb, an avid sports watcher. “It’s a real shame that some of our top athletes are not such great role models in the spotlight.”
Originally, Lochte and fellow American swimmers Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger, and Gunnar Bentz had reported they had been forced out of a taxi and robbed in Rio on the morning of August 14th, 2016 at gunpoint. The next day, Lochte went onto international news to express that he had been forced out at gunpoint by men wielding a taxi badge. However, his fellow teammates were swift to contradict his story, claiming that they were removed from the taxi by armed security men who demanded payment over vandalism the group had committed on the gas station. After surveillance video showing the swimmers’ story to be true was put into circulation, Lochte came out and stated that he was drunk and had over-exaggerated.
Lochte was able to return to American soil without incident during this time but teammates Bentz and Conger were forcibly evicted from the plane by orders of a Brazilian judge. The civil police of Rio were able to conclude their investigation of the incident after the eviction, stating that the swimmers were stopped at a gas station and held until the swimmers paid compensation for the vandalism which had been committed, costing a meager sum of 51 US dollars.
While the other swimmers were slightly tarnished on record, Lochte had gone above and beyond in his flamboyant portrayal of the events of the morning. Lochte was singled out for feeding public fear surrounding the Olympics and of course, for his lying to the entire public and press. Therefore multiple sponsors such as Speedo, Ralph Lauren, and others cut their sponsorships with the athlete, costing him an estimated 1 million dollars.
“The really sad bit of this whole mess is that it’s not the first time US swimming has been a source of controversy in recent times.” said sophomore Kellen Radkey, a varsity swim team member. “It is a really bad situation in general when the faces of the sport have been under so much negative scrutiny for their actions outside of the pool.”
US swimming has an unfortunate history with the law in the 21st century. The face of the team, Michael Phelps, was implicated in a DUI charge in 2004. Phelps is a record-breaking Olympian; he holds the most medals, the most gold medals, and the most individual medals of any athlete, ever. In February of 2009, Phelps had another run-in with the law after a picture of his bong surfaced. Later, Phelps was once again jailed for drunk driving.
Despite some of the best American accomplishments in the world of sports coming from Olympic swimming, some of the worst PR disasters have come from the top athletes such as Lochte and Phelps.