1 of 4 | The Olympic Charter allows athletes to be disciplined "in the case of any violation ... or of any applicable public law or regulation, or in case of any form of misbehavior." Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Ryan Lochte, the second-most decorated Olympic swimmer in U.S. history, and three others from Team USA might face disciplinary action from the International Olympic Committee for the incident at a Rio gas station that continues to reverberate at the global athletic event.
The IOC said late Friday it is investigating the matter, which involved U.S. swimmers Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jimmy Feigen and Jack Conger on Aug. 14 -- and could sanction the athletes if it finds wrongdoing on their part.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said an investigatory panel will "hear all sides" regarding the gas station ordeal, which linked the American swimmers with vandalism and subsequent claims they were robbed at gunpoint -- claims that have since been rejected by Rio police.
The Olympic Charter allows athletes to be disciplined "in the case of any violation ... or of any applicable public law or regulation, or in case of any form of misbehavior." Potential sanctions range from a reprimand to the athletes being stripped of the gold medals they won in Rio.
Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, Conger and Bentz were on the 4x200 freestyle relay team that won gold, and Feigen was a member of the gold-winning 4x100 freestyle relay team.
Police say the four swimmers took a taxi back to the Olympic Village after being at a party early Sunday, but stopped at the gas station en route and got into an altercation with a security officer there -- over damage to a restroom door. The gas station owner said Lochte, who later acknowledged being intoxicated, also urinated on the outer wall before leaving.
Hours later, Lochte said he and the others had been robbed at gunpoint by men posing as police. Inconsistent details in their versions of events and other signals made police suspicious about whether a robbery had occurred at all. Authorities now believe the claims of robbery were false, intended to cover up the fracas at the gas station.
Earlier Friday, Lochte apologized for his behavior, but stuck to the narrative that he and the others were forced to turn over money at gunpoint.
"I want to apologize ... 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 said in a statement posted on Twitter. "I waited to share these thoughts until it was confirmed that the legal situation was addressed and it was clear that my teammates would be arriving home safely.
"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."
Bentz also issued an apology Friday and indicated that there had been no armed robbery.
"There was no restroom inside [the gas station], so we foolishly relieved ourselves on the backside of the building behind some bushes," he said in a statement. "I am unsure why, but while we were in that area, Ryan pulled to the ground a framed metal advertisement that was loosely anchored to the brick wall. I then suggested to everyone that we needed to leave the area and we returned to the taxi."
Bentz claims that after returning to the taxi, the four were ordered out by security guards.
"Again, I cannot speak to his actions, but Ryan stood up and began to yell at the guards. After Jack and I both tugged at him in an attempt to get him to sit back down, Ryan and the security guards had a heated verbal exchange," he said. "Additionally, I would like to stress that our original taxi was not pulled over; the only occupants of the taxi were the four of us and the driver."
In Friday's message, Lochte said he regrets the way he responded to the situation.
"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 hosts of this great event," he said.
All four swimmers have returned to the United States, but only after Conger, Bentz and Feigen were each kept in Rio de Janeiro for further questioning by investigators. Lochte returned before police could locate him.
Brazilian police have recommended that charges be filed against Feigen and Lochte for false reporting of a crime.