"My life has been flipped upside down," Scotty Lago said Thursday evening, the day before he was scheduled to make his first TV appearance -- on Jimmy Kimmel Live! -- since being sent home from the Olympics one week ago. It is the ironic twist in the TMZ photo saga. The USOC gave Lago a choice: go home or face a disciplinary hearing in Vancouver. Lago went home, hoping that, in New Hampshire, he would be out of the spotlight long enough to allow the story to die down. Instead, the simple fact they sent him home thrust him directly into the brightest spotlight of his life. "I wanted to step out of the limelight," Lago said from Los Angeles. "I didn't want to cause any more trouble. But as soon as they bought my ticket home, I knew right away they were going to cause a media storm."
In the past week, Lago was visited at home by the New York Times and his reps have fielded requests from nearly every major media outlet, including the LA Times, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fuel TV and now, Kimmel. Had the USOC accepted Lago's apology for his late-night lapse in judgment, Lago would have been in Vancouver watching the women's hockey finals with his teammates instead of doing pre-show interviews with Kimmel's staff. He would still be at the Olympics, a bronze medalist overshadowed by the next day's news. Instead, he is tomorrow's headline.
"It has been getting bigger and bigger every day since it happened," Lago said. "It has snowballed into this crazy thing. It has been insane. This is a lot more media than I ever expected. I figured I would go to the Olympics, give it my best, work hard and once it was done, have some time to relax. I'd do a couple days of press and then go home to my normal life. This is the total opposite of that plan."
Instead of shying away from the attention, Lago has decided to embrace it, to tell his own story instead of letting others tell it for him. "I want all of America to get to know me better and to know that I am a good kid," Lago said. "Because I really am. I love my country. That's the thing about the Olympics. You're doing it for your country. I feel like our country needs more patriotism and I'm not in the military, but I felt like I was doing something for my country. I was so proud to represent the U.S. But I wasn't representing my country well at the time and that is what hurts me the most. Winning a bronze medal was by far my proudest moment and I wouldn't want to do anything to embarrass anyone or myself. But we live in the new world where camera phones are everywhere and you have to be on your best behavior at all times."
The day Lago made the U.S. team in Park City, his first call was home to his mother, who is French Canadian. "That was a great call," Lago said. But the call to his folks the morning he was asked to leave was the hardest call he's ever had to make. "The call to my mom, that was my lowest point. But the real deal was the call to my dad. He was very, very, very livid with me. I was glad I didn't have to tell him in person. But he's cooled down now. We're all looking past this silly incident and, to be honest, it's been a plus for me. I get to go on Jimmy Kimmel."
Lago said he was told he will still get to visit the White House and meet President Obama with his teammates next month. Thursday evening between interviews, he also had a special call. A representative for Vice President Biden called to tell Lago the VP would be calling him Friday afternoon to congratulate him on his bronze medal. "The VP is giving me a call to congratulate me," Lago said. "That is super cool. I think he is looking past this silly incident."
Hopefully everyone else will, too.