RIO DE JANEIRO – The smartest thing Ryan Lochte did was get out of town.
With questions mounting about who held them up, where and under what circumstances – or if it even happened – a Brazilian judge ordered Lochte and U.S. teammate Jimmy Feigen not to leave Rio.
Sure. Staying put is a great idea.
After they’ve embarrassed the police, who are not exactly known for their restraint or truthfulness. And the International Olympic Committee, which is still salty from earlier “miscommunication” with the U.S. Olympic Committee and isn’t likely to have the backs of the swimmers who caused such a fuss.
And a fuss it most certainly is.
If a robbery did indeed happen, Lochte, Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger are the victims. They are the ones who were “liberated” of their wallets and, in Lochte’s version had a gun held to his forehead.
Yet the 12-time Olympic medalist and Feigen are being treated as if they stood atop Christ the Redeemer and flipped off all of Brazil.
A judge ordered the swimmers’ passports seized and said they should not leave Brazil. Judge Keyla Blank's order said investigators need more time to determine whether the Americans filed a false police report. A “crime” punishable by up to six months’ detention or a fine, mind you.
That’s the equivalent of amputation for a paper cut. Lying to the police, that's bad. Lying by the police, that's a difference of opinion.
It’s clear something happened early Sunday morning, and no one would be surprised if it turns out to be something embarrassing or likely to get the swimmers in trouble with the USOC, USA Swimming or their sponsors. But Lochte’s crime was that he mentioned that the robbers were men posing as cops, complete with one of them flashing a badge.
It is irrelevant whether it’s true. And in a city where street crime is rampant and entire neighborhoods are under siege by drug lords or gangs, the police ought to have bigger concerns. But Lochte’s story was an embarrassment, and that just won’t be tolerated.
Rio authorities already have shown that facts are overrated. And very much open to their interpretation.
Remember that media bus that was hit by gunfire early in the Games? One of the reporters on the bus was a retired U.S. Air Force captain. Someone who would, you know, be familiar with guns and the sounds they make, given that weapons training starts in Week 1 of basic training, according to the Air Force website.
“We were shot at,” said Sherryl “Lee” Michaelson, who now works for a basketball publication. “I mean, we could hear the report of the gun.”
Bolstering her story were Reuters photos, one showing a side window that had been blown out and another with a small, bullet-sized hole.
False! The Rio cops said. It was rocks that caused the damage.
Who was throwing the rocks, Nolan Ryan and Jake Arrieta? A bus is traveling at full speed on a highway and a small rock kicks up with exactly enough force and at exactly the right angle to shatter one side window and pierce another.
When the diving pool turned green, we were told that chemistry was not an exact science. Apparently physics isn't, either.
So the question isn’t why Lochte high-tailed it for the land of the free and the home of the Miranda rights, but why Feigen wasn’t right behind him.
Feigen was still in Rio as of Wednesday, according to his hometown newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, which spoke with him briefly. He at least has left the Olympic village and is an undisclosed location, according to USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky.
Which is good. But unless he’s hiding out in the U.S. consulate, he still needs an escape route.
A burro-for-hire to the Argentina border perhaps, and then a spot on a military chopper? Maybe he can borrow USA Basketball’s boat for a few days. There are plenty of canoes and kayaks still around Rio, too. Grab one of those and start paddling.
Better yet, scrounge up as many Olympic pins as he can find and see if he can trade those for his freedom.
Can the U.S. get Feigen out, that's what Americans care the most about. Because if he did file a false police report, in Brazil that is apparently a lot worse than shooting at a bus with people on it.