NEW YORK (AFP) - Star American swimmer Ryan Lochte on Saturday said he took "full responsibility" for vandalising a gas station bathroom and then inventing a story about it to police during the Rio Olympics.
The episode, which has embarrassed the US sporting superpower, saw Lochte and three other gold medal winning US swimmers embroiled in a controversy after he gave a shocking - and false - account of how they had been robbed at gunpoint.
"That's why I'm taking full responsibility for it, is because I overexaggerated that story and if I had never done that, we wouldn't be in this mess," Lochte said in an interview broadcast in part late on Saturday.
The full interview will be aired later by NBC television.
Lochte had already apologised on Friday for setting off a storm of controversy after he said the swimmers were mugged by robbers pretending to be police while on their way back from an all-night party.
It was only after police declared the story bogus - saying that the four had only been detained by security and made to pay compensation for drunken vandalisation of a gas station bathroom - that Lochte finally came clean.
"I left details out... I left certain things out, and I overexaggerated some parts of the story," Lochte said in the interview.
On Wednesday a Rio judge ordered the athletes' passports confiscated so that they could not leave the country.
Although Lochte had already left, the other three - Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen - underwent questioning in Rio police stations. Asked how he felt being home while his team-mates were detained, Lochte said: "I let my team down. And, you know, I wanted to be there, like, I don't want them to think that I left, and left them dry because they were my team-mates."
"I just wanted to make sure that they were at home safe before I came out and talked," he added.
On Thursday, police released closed-circuit TV footage and other evidence about the events at the gas station. The athletes, who appeared intoxicated, stopped in a taxi at the gas station to use the bathroom during the early hours of the morning.
Lochte and the others then vandalised the area near the bathroom and, according to the manager, urinated on the walls.
In the United States, Lochte has come under serious scorn, with media and Internet comments almost universally scathing.