In his first interview since his claim of armed robbery unravelled, the US swimmer lamented getting his team-mates into a mess in Rio.
In his first public comments since the story unravelled, the 12-time Olympic medallist told NBC he took the blame for what ultimately became a high-profile international incident between the United States and Brazil.
Lochte described how four American swimmers being asked to pay for damages at a gas station by two armed guards blossomed into a much taller tale, and took the blame for letting it get that far.
"That's why I'm taking full responsibility for it, because I over-exaggerated that story," Lochte said. "If I'd never done that, we wouldn't be in this mess. Those guys would never be [detained] in Rio. None of this would have happened. It was my immature behaviour."
Lochte already had returned to the US when Brazilian authorities began to increase the pressure on the American swimmers as they had trouble corroborating Lochte's claims of a hold-up on Sunday morning.
That left younger team-mates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen to have their passports pulled, be questioned by police, and be paraded in front of cameras in a story that threatened to overwhelm the actual competition in the second week of the Rio Games.
In taking responsibility, Lochte nonetheless clung to the threads of his original claim as he described the swimmers' encounter at a gas station at around 6am Sunday after a long night out.
"It’s how you want to make it look like, whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying for the damages - we don't know," he said. "All we know is there was a gun pointed in our direction and we were demanded to give money.
"There was a gun pointed in our direction and we were all frightened. We all wanted to get out of there as quick as possible and the only way we knew is this guy saying, 'You have to give them money.' So we gave them money and we got out."