Three-time Olympian Klete Keller’s involvement in the January 6 riots at the Capitol was “painful” for some of his former Team U.S.A teammates.
Now, several of his friends, colleagues and his ex-wife are speaking out as to why they believe Keller, 38, stormed the Capital in protest of President-elect Joe Biden’s win wearing his Team USA jacket and U.S. Olympic Team patch. Standing at 6-foot-6 and unmasked, it was hard not to notice the five-time medalist in a video captured during the riots of President Donald Trump’s supporters.
“For him to throw everything away, I don’t understand it. It’s very, very troubling,” Keller’s former teammate and childhood friend, Gary Hall Jr., told the Washington Post.
Keller, along with many other participants at the uprising, was charged in the U.S. District Court on Wednesday with three counts – violent entry, disorderly conduct and obstructing law enforcement. He could face up to 15 and a half years in prison if convicted on all three counts.
“He was just starting to pull his life back together,” Hall Jr. continued. “He had a job. He got engaged. To see all that implode is just heartbreaking.”
The former Olympian added that he and Keller are “on opposite sides of the political spectrum,” but he felt “a heavy weight” when he found out the teammate he cared about was involved.
“I want to be very clear: I condemn that behavior. Having said that, my heart is broken,” Hall Jr. said.
He also voiced his disappointment in Keller rioting while in Olympian gear.
“Great care is taken to remove any political agenda from Team USA. For him to drag that in by wearing the sacred colors was especially painful,” Hall Jr. expressed.
Keller’s ex-wife and mother of their three children, Cari Sherrill, similarly expressed that the Olympian has “had many personal issues [that] he’s chosen not to address” during and after his swimming career. “That in itself has always been concerning and continues to be,” she added.
“He was a lost soul, long before the Trump thing,” former Olympian and NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines said. “He hit some hard times where he went through some things in life that probably wouldn’t be real good for anyone. Sometimes when you get lost, you become a follower instead of a leader.”
Gaines added, “I’m not a psychologist, but maybe he was trying to draw attention to himself. Maybe it’s one of those things where you want to get caught, just so you can finally get some help.”
Keller’s former Olympic roommate Tom Malchow similarly voiced that he wished he kept in contact with Keller as a support system.
“A lot of people struggle after their careers end,” Malchow explained. “You’re a hero. You have all these people catering to your needs, taking care of you. And when that ride is over, real life, unfortunately, is just different.”
Olympic team coach Dave Salo, who previously trained Keller, gave the disgraced medalist the benefit of the doubt.
“He stands out as a 6-foot-6 guy in a U.S.A. jacket,” Salo said. “But he wasn’t stealing a lectern. He didn’t seem threatening. I don’t know that there should be too much criticism of someone who was voicing their opinion.”
The coach added, “I don’t think he was part of the group that was trying to do anything but protest. I think he was probably caught up in the crowd surging towards the Capitol.”
Neither Keller or his family responded to PEOPLE’s attempts to reach them for comment. Keller has not made any public statements regarding his reported involvement in what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later denounced as a “failed insurrection” attempt.
USA Swimming also did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment. It is unclear if Keller has obtained legal representation or has entered a plea at this time.