By Graham Gillespie
Who were the three biggest stars of the 2016 Olympics? One could argue for Simone Biles with her redefining what is possible for the human body, Katie Ledecky for making her fellow Olympic swimmers look like doggy- paddling toddlers, or perhaps Wayde van Niekerk for eclipsing Michael Johnson’s 17 year old world record. There are countless others worth mentioning however, in Ireland at least the true three biggest stars of the Rio Olympics were Pat Hickey (let’s not talk about that here), the Brazilian police and of course finally the perplexing case of Ryan Lochte which overshadowed all the other storylines that emerged from the fortnight of sport in Brazil.
The six time Olympic gold medallist Lochte became the centre of attention for the world’s media when he claimed he was robbed at gunpoint on his way home to the Olympic village from a party. Following this the Brazilian police claimed that Lochte’s allegation was fabricated. They also desired to seize Lochte’s and two of his fellow teammates’ passports and question them on the incident, however at this point it had emerged that Lochte had already left the country. Later on it became clear that the robbery indeed never happened, but footage did emerge of Lochte and his teammates vandalising a gas station and a gun was pointed at Lochte by an armed security guard at the gas station.
Perhaps the most immediate question that springs to anyone’s mind when hearing this story is why did Lochte make up a story about robbed? And maybe more pertinently how on earth did he think he would get away with it? The answer to the first question may be that Lochte is an individual who rather enjoys the limelight and having column inches devoted to him, this is a man who has stated his ambition is to be the next Kim Kardashian, and saw this as easy opportunity to seize the public spotlight. The fact that he thought the Brazilian police would not follow up and debunk his story strikes of arrogance and honestly complete idiocy.
Lochte further digged himself into a hole by effectively fleeing the country which exemplified the idea that he believes he does not need to take responsibility for his actions. This could stem from a sense of privilege or superiority he may think has being a top level sports man, a celebrity and maybe most interestingly an American. It’s easy to see how this could be perceived by Brazilians as yet another instance where a South American nation is patronised and disrespected by their northern neighbours. Lochte’s claims were essentially taken as an affront to the nation of Brazil and he has since lost millions of dollars in sponsorship deals.
This controversy has more than likely spelled the end of Lochte’s swimming career (if it wasn’t ending already anyways) but Lochte is most certainly not the only party that deserves criticism in this incident. The Brazilian police’s actions throughout this case have been far from ideal and in many ways they have used this controversy as a P.R exercise. Until footage of the incident became available to the public this police suggested that nothing untoward happened to Lochte and his friends when this is clearly not the case. He did lie about the robbery but he did indeed have a gun pointed at his head which is probably a more serious issue that was glossed over. Lochte’s behaviour on the night of the incident was stupid and ignorant, but did he and his friends really deserve to be held at gunpoint by a security guard who demanded them to handover money for urinating and damaging a few posters? It was a total over reaction by the security guards and the police chose not to focus on this point.
Another group that behaved well below their expected standard was the media. The story initially broke when Fox Sports News Australia broadcaster Ben Way heard from Ryan Lochte’s mother on a bus in Rio that her son was robbed and immediately posted it to Twitter without attempting to check the veracity of the claim. This trend continued throughout the lifespan of the story with there seemingly being a twist in the story every hour and everyone making their mind up on who is in the wrong long before enough details of the episode were known. This coverage of this story is a cautionary example of how the “hot take” culture that pervades throughout much of the media landscape can sometimes be dangerous and obscure the truth.
In some instances Lochte was also arguably treated too harshly and unfairly vilified. The worst thing Lochte did in this case was not tell the truth which in itself is pretty bad but he did not hurt anyone. The same cannot be said for one of America’s Olympic “heroes” Michael Phelps who has been arrested twice in the past for DUIs. Granted Phelps did undergo rehab following these incidents but his actions did put people’s lives in danger while the only person who was even remotely in danger in this incident was probably Lochte himself due to the actions of the security guard.
Ultimately the most likely outcome at this point seems to be that the case against Lochte will fade away. He will once again avoid consequences and return to his efforts to become a reality TV personality by appearing on Dancing with the Stars in the US, while all the other parties involved will return to their daily work. However everybody involved looks much worse now than they did before this case began.