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Olympian Ryan Lochte suspended for 10 months

USA TODAY SPORTS USA TODAY SPORTS 8/09/2016 by Nicole Auerbach and Christine Brennan, USA TODAY Sports
Olympian Ryan Lochte suspended for 10 months © Peter Casey, USA TODAY Sports Olympian Ryan Lochte suspended for 10 months

Twelve-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte has been suspended for 10 months for the gas station incident that became an embarrassment during the Rio Olympics, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.

The punishment was handed down by both the United States Olympic Committee and USA Swimming.

The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced publicly, said Lochte's suspension is longer than that of the other three U.S. swimmers he was with at the gas station that night.

Lochte will also be banned from the 2017 world championship meet, which will be held in Budapest next July.

TMZ.com was the first to report the length of the suspension.

The four swimmers were involved in the incident after a night of partying following the end of the Olympic swimming competition. Lochte's mother, Ileana Lochte, told USA TODAY Sports the following morning that her son had been robbed, which began a week-long news cycle that saw Lochte revise his account of what happened and acknowledge he exaggerated some details. But he stood by his story that he and his teammates were detained at gunpoint and forced to pay money so they could leave.

The details Lochte initially embellished — about a gun being cocked against his forehead, for example — drew the attention of Rio authorities, who met with the swimmers to take statements and begin their own investigation, which quickly morphed into Rio authorities alleging at a news conference that the swimmers had filed a false police report. Authorities later said that only Lochte and Jimmy Feigen had made false statements to police, and the other two, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Condor, were regarded as witnesses.

At the news conference, however, Rio authorities also offered an embellished account. Rio police chief Fernando Veloso characterized the athletes’ actions at the gas station as vandalism, alleging they had broken into the restroom and vandalized a soap dispenser and mirror. Those allegations heightened media portrayals of the four swimmers as obnoxious Americans behaving recklessly late at night in a foreign country and Lochte was pilloried in media reports around the world.

Veloso also defended the security guards drawing their weapons as necessary to protect themselves, though a witness told USA TODAY Sports the swimmers were “terrified” and the guards had pulled their guns when the swimmers tried to leave the scene without paying for alleged damage to an advertising sign.

A USA TODAY Sports investigation of witness accounts, official reports and surveillance videos supported Bentz’s claim that he did not see anyone vandalize the gas station restroom. It also concluded the framework of what Lochte said was true – the swimmers were in a taxi that was prevented from leaving the gas station by an armed man who flashed a badge and ordered them out of the car, and that they were held at gunpoint and forced to pay money, about $50, for damaging the sign. Video showed a security guard did aim his gun at Lochte’s head, though it was not “to the forehead,” as Lochte initially said. There was no evidence the swimmers entered the restroom, which was locked.

The swimmers said they had stopped at the gas station because they needed to urinate, and said they did so in bushes behind the building after finding the restroom locked.

Legal experts and a Brazilian judge also told USA TODAY Sports that the actions of the guards that night may have been illegal, as Brazilian law prohibits anyone from determining on their own the damages to property and using a weapon to collect payment.

All four swimmers eventually were able to leave Brazil by the end of the Olympics, though Bentz and Conger were first pulled off their planes for further questioning before they left and Feigen had to pay a $11,000 settlement to avoid charges before he could return home. Rio authorities say they will pursue a case against Lochte for filing a false police report, but Lochte’s legal team disputes that the swimmer made false statements to police.

Contributing: Nancy Armour

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