US Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has apologised over his involvement in false claims he was the victim of an armed robbery at the Rio Games.
The gold medal-winner said he "should have been more responsible in how I handled myself," adding that he had "learned some valuable lessons."
In a statement posted on his Twitter account on Friday (19 August), Lochte said he wanted to wait until his three teammates had left Brazil before making any comments.
He said: "I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend – for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics."
Lochte and three of his fellow gold medallist teammates – Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger – made international headlines after Lochte claimed the group had been held up at gun point on Sunday (14 August) after a party. Lochte said the alleged perpetrators were disguised as police officers and took their money.
CCTV later showed the story had been invented as a cover story to hide the fact the athletes had become involved in a confrontation that saw a police station vandalised. "No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed," Rio's civil police head Fernando Veloso concluded.
Veloso claimed one or more of the athletes had damaged a toilet at the petrol station and offered to pay for repairs. They handed over money and left when security guards arrived, one of whom Veloso said had justifiably drawn his gun after the erratic behaviour of one of the swimmers.
Lochte did not go as far as to admit his original story was made up, instead saying: "It's traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country – with a language barrier – and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave, but regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that am sorry to my teammates, my fans, my fellow competitors, my sponsors, and the host of this great event."
The incident has been an embarrassment for the US Olympic team, with the two swimmers at one point facing possible charges of false testimony and vandalism.
A judge in Rio had issued search and seizure warrants for the passports of the four athletes on Wednesday. It emerged Lochte had already flown back to the US while two other members of the group, Bentz and Conger, were taken off a flight in Rio on Thursday night to be questioned by police. The pair denied playing any part in the invented story and were allowed to leave on another US-bound flight.
Feigen, the last of the group left in Rio, agreed with prosecutors on Friday to donate 35,000 real [£8,200, $10,800] to a sports charity in exchange for being allowed to retrieve his confiscated passport and return to the US.
The saga prompted the US Olympic Committee (USOC) to publicly confirm the version of events provided by the police in Rio and apologise, saying the behaviour of the athletes "is not acceptable, nor does it represent the values of Team USA or the conduct of the vast majority of its members".
Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, accepted the apology but said he had "pity and contempt" for the athletes involved.