Twelve-time medalist Ryan Lochte took "full responsibility" Saturday for the incident in Rio that landed him and three other American swimmers in hot water and tarnished Team USA's reputation during the 2016 Summer Olympics.
"I over-exaggerated that story," Lochte, 32, told NBC's Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview, a day after posting an apology online.
Lochte told Brazilian authorities — as well as Lauer — that he and fellow teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen had been robbed at gunpoint at a Rio gas station after a night of celebrating. As inconsistencies emerged in the account, skepticism grew.
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Rio police refuted his story altogether earlier this week. Citing surveillance video and witness testimony, they said the swimmers had vandalized the gas station restroom, then had been confronted by security guards, who took out their weapons and told them to pay for the damage before leaving the gas station.
But Rio Police Chief Fernando Veloso denied the guards had used excessive force against the athletes.
"They were not victims of the criminal actions that they claimed they were," Veloso said Thursday. "They fabricated a story."
In an interview with TODAY Sunday, Lochte said an armed robber pointed a gun at his forehead and cocked the weapon. In the interview that aired Saturday, Lochte said that was made up.
"That didn't happen and that's why — I over-exaggerated that part, " Lochte said. The gun was drawn and pointed in his direction but was never at his forehead, Lochte said.
Asked why he would make up the dramatic detail, Lochte said: "I don't know why." He added it was hours after the incident occurred and he was still intoxicated.
"I'm not making me being intoxicated like an excuse, I'm not doing that at all," Lochte said. "It was my fault and I shouldn't have said it."
Lauer asked Lochte why he had maintained they were "victims" in his statements to police and to the media.
"It's how you want to make it look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don't know," Lochte responded. "All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money."
According to the statement that his teammate Bentz gave authorities, a man who spoke English walked over and told the swimmers the guards were telling them to pay for the damage they caused, or else they would call the police. Lauer pressed Lochte on whether he understood what the guards were proposing.
"We just wanted to get out of there," Lochte said. "We were all frightened. And we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. And the only way we knew is — this guy saying, 'You have to give him money.' So we gave him money, and we got out."
"What I'm trying to get at is the first version of the story you told, Ryan, was much more about the mean streets of Rio," Lauer told him. "And the version we're hearing now is much more about a negotiated settlement to cover up some dumb behavior."
"And that's why I'm taking full responsibility for it," Lochte said. "Because I over-exaggerated that story. And if I had never done that, we wouldn't be in this mess ... None of this would have happened. And it was my immature behavior."
The swimmer said "I'm just embarrassed" and "I know what I did was wrong" during the interview. He expressed remorse that the controversy became a distraction from the Olympic games.
Lochte also apologized to the people of Rio and Brazil. The fabrication was seen by some as especially insulting considering media coverage of the city's crime rate and pollution in the run up to the Olympic games.
"They put on a great games. The people of Rio or Brazil, the authorities, everyone there put on a great games. And my immature behavior tarnished that a little, and I don't want that," Lochte said.
"I'm just really sorry and I hope they can accept my apology," he said.
Lochte said that he hopes to continue his Olympic swimming career, if officials allow it.
"If they give me that chance I definitely know I can turn this around and become that role model for little kids," Lochte said. "I don't want little kids to look at me for what I just did, for that one night. I don't want that."