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Ryan Lochte, one of the US Olympic team’s star swimmers, and three of his teammates have been robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro, an incident which will raise further concerns about security for athletes and dignitaries at the games.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) said in a statement on Sunday that four swimmers — Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen — were attacked after leaving together in a taxi following a party at France House near the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon.
The men were headed back to the Olympic Village in the western part of the city in the early hours of Sunday morning when “their taxi was stopped by individuals posing as armed police officers who demanded the athletes’ money and other personal belongings,” said Patrick Sandusky, USOC spokesperson. “All four athletes are safe and co-operating with authorities.”
Earlier in the day, the IOC had denied Lochte had been a victim, but later directed reporters to the statement by the USOC.
Thousands of security staff and policemen have been deployed by Brazilian authorities for the games, with the vast majority focused on protecting areas such as the Olympic Park in the western suburb of Barra and along key tourist locations such as Copacabana beach.
The robbery appears to have occurred away from the main competition venues.
“We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over,” Lochte was quoted as telling US network NBC.
“They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground. They got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so I’m not getting down on the ground.
“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”
The news followed the conclusion of the swimming competition on Saturday, at which Lochte won gold in the 200m freestyle relay.
There have been a series of security scares throughout the Olympics. At the start of the games last week, a stray bullet ripped through the side of the media tent at Deodoro, which is next to a military base. Close to the same venue, a bus carrying journalists had one of its windows shattered, although there remains confusion as to whether it had been hit by a bullet or pelted by rocks.
Brazil’s Folha de S.Paulo newspaper also reported on the first weekend of the games that a group tried to rob Felipe Seixas, the federal police officer in charge of security for the opening ceremony, at knifepoint as he left Rio’s Maracanã’s stadium in the early hours of last Saturday. His colleagues reportedly shot dead one of the robbers.