Olympian Keller charged with taking part in U.S. Capitol riot

Five-time Olympic swimming medalist Klete Keller has been charged with participating in a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Published : Jan 14, 2021 10:25 IST , Washington

Klete Keller stands with his gold medal after the men's 200m freestyle event at the Pan Pacific 2006 swimming championships in August, 2006. - REUTERS
Klete Keller stands with his gold medal after the men's 200m freestyle event at the Pan Pacific 2006 swimming championships in August, 2006. - REUTERS

Klete Keller stands with his gold medal after the men's 200m freestyle event at the Pan Pacific 2006 swimming championships in August, 2006. - REUTERS

Five-time Olympic swimming medalist Klete Keller was charged with participating in a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol after video emerged that appeared to show him among those storming the building last week.

An FBI complaint, citing screenshots from the video, asked that a warrant be issued charging Keller with knowingly entering a restricted building to impede an official government function, disorderly conduct, and obstructing law officers during the frightening ordeal.

It wasn’t clear if he had been taken into custody.

Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol during a joint session of Congress on January 6 while lawmakers met to formalise the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

The 38-year-old Keller competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. He captured two golds and a silver as a member of the 800-metre freestyle relay, as well as a pair of individual bronzes in the 400 free.

Messages seeking comment left with Keller and his sister, former Olympic swimmer Kalyn Keller, were not immediately returned.

“We respect private individuals’ and groups’ rights to peacefully protest but in no way condone the actions taken by those at the Capitol last week,” USA Swimming said in a statement, noting that Keller has not been a member of the organisation since he retired after the 2008 Beijing Games.

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Keller’s alleged participation in the Capitol protest was first reported this week by SwimSwam , a site dedicated to covering competitive swimming and other aquatic sports.

It pointed to video posted to social media by Townhall reporter Julio Rosas, which showed a tall man wearing a U.S. Olympic Team jacket among the rioters as officers attempted to clear the Rotunda.

SwimSwam said at least a dozen people within the sport have identified the man as Keller after reviewing the video and screenshots. The FBI affidavit specifically cited screenshots that shows the person identified as Keller wearing a U.S. Olympic team jacket.

It also pointed out that the former swimmer is listed as 6-foot-6 and the person in the video “appears to be one of the tallest individuals in the video depicting individuals in the Rotunda.”

Keller trained for several years under coach Bob Bowman, who is best known as the longtime coach and mentor of Michael Phelps, winner of the most gold medals in Olympic history.

In a statement issued before Keller was charged, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee denounced the melee that left five people dead but did not mention him specifically.

“We absolutely condemn the violent actions of the rioters at the U.S. Capitol last week,” the USOPC said.

“We support the right to peacefully protest and express values and viewpoints in a respectful and lawful manner - that is what makes our democracy strong. Sadly, that is not what happened in this case.”

Supporter of Donald Trump

Keller has deleted his social media accounts, which reportedly showed he was an outspoken supporter of President Trump. Keller’s athletic achievements are unlikely to be affected by the charges, though he could be shunned by USA Swimming and the USOPC at promotional events and other functions featuring former Olympians.

The International Olympic Committee has only stripped medals from athletes who violated doping rules and other regulations during competition.

Keller, who grew up in Arizona, was working in Colorado as an independent contractor for real estate firm Hoff & Leigh , which said on its website that he advised “industrial landlords and sellers on maximising the value of their industrial asset.” Hoff & Leigh released a statement to SwimSwam on Tuesday saying Keller has resigned.

Hoff & Leigh supports the right of free speech and lawful protest,” the company said.

“But we cannot condone actions that violate the rule of law.”

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A longtime stalwart of the U.S. national team, Keller was a member of 800 free relay teams that helped Phelps win two of his record 23 gold medals. Keller anchored the winning team at the 2004 Athens Games, which also included Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay. Keller posted the fasted split in the group.

Four years later, Keller anchored the relay during the preliminaries, powering the Americans to the fastest time, but he didn’t compete in the final. Phelps, Lochte, Ricky Berens and Vanderkaay turned in a world-record performance that was part of Phelps’ record eight gold medals in Beijing.

Keller struggled to adjust to post-Olympic life.

In interviews with the Olympic Channel podcast and USA Swimming, he admitted to being a poor employee and feeling entitled because of his athletic success. The problems carried over to his personal life, which result in a divorce that left him homeless and a loss of visitation rights that prevented him from seeing his children for four years.

He credited his family and specifically his sister for helping him get his life back on track.

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