Two Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. swimmers apologized to the South Korean people, attributed their theft of a $860 decorative plaster mask to "boyish exuberance," and asked for forgiveness as they appeared before Korean police here Tuesday to undergo questioning prior to possible prosecution.
The interrogation was continuing 3 hours after the pair arrived at the Yongsam Police Station.
Although the U.S. Olympic Committee issued a statement Sunday saying that Troy Dalbey, 19, of San Jose, and Douglas Gjertsen, 21, of Houston, would be sent home before the Olympics end next Sunday, South Korean police summoned them for questioning after South Korean mass media demanded that the two be prosecuted.
With a friend, who identified himself as Ernest Grynde, 26, the two gold-medal winners appeared 70 minutes late in a U.S. Embassy van.
They were accompanied by an U.S. consular officer and a South Korean lawyer.
Dalbey, winner of two gold medals for his part in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle relays, read a statement to South Korean and foreign reporters and photographers.
"I want to apologize," he said. "Our actions were done in boyish exuberance in celebrating our Olympic victory . . . and we had no intention of keeping the statue" stolen from the Seoul Hyatt Hotel, where the trio went drinking at 1 a.m. Sunday.
They were arrested about 2 hours later in a bar in Itaewon, a night-life center of Seoul, and were released at 11 a.m. Sunday after the U.S. Embassy signed a letter guaranteeing that they would appear for questioning.
"We want to apologize to the Korean people and hope that our actions do not jeopardize the positive relations between the United States and the Republic of Korea," Dalbey said.
Gjertsen, winner of a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle relay, said he was sorry for "embarrassing the United States Olympic team, the American people, our friends and our families.
"Please accept our apologies," he added. "We are deeply sorry."
When South Korean reporters shouted "Why were you late?" Grynde said the trio had appeared at the U.S. Embassy at 9 a.m. to go to the police station but said South Korean police had asked them to delay their visit by 1 hour.
Yongsam Police Chief Hong Soon Mu said the three Americans would be "treated the same as Korean suspects."
"Of course," he said, "police are dealing with this case carefully because it involves gold medalists from a foreign country (who are) Olympic guests. But I believe everybody is equal before the law."
Hong said police would forward a report to prosecutors, who eventually would decide whether to indict the trio. A decision will be reached "within a few days" as to whether to prosecute, he added.