Olympic Champion Phelps Regrets Using Marijuana

Olympic great Michael Phelps acknowledged "regrettable" behavior and "bad judgment" after a photo in a British newspaper Sunday showed him inhaling from a marijuana pipe.

In a statement to The Associated Press, the swimmer who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games did not dispute the authenticity of the exclusive picture published Sunday by the tabloid News of the World.

"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," Phelps said in the statement released by one of his agents. "I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."

News of the World said the picture was taken during a November house party while Phelps was visiting the University of South Carolina. During that trip, he attended one of the school's football games and received a big ovation when introduced to the crowd.

While the newspaper did not specifically allege that Phelps was smoking pot, it did say the water pipe is generally used for that purpose and anonymously quoted a partygoer who said the Olympic champion was "out of control from the moment he got there."

The party occurred nearly three months after the Olympics while Phelps was taking a long break from training, and his actions should have no impact on the eight golds he won at Beijing. He has never tested positive for banned substances. The case is unlikely to fall under any doping rules.

Phelps' main sanctions most likely will be financial - perhaps doled out by embarrassed sponsors who might be reconsidering their dealings with the swimmer.

Phelps was in Tampa, Fla., during Super Bowl week to make promotional appearances on behalf of a sponsor. But he left the city before Sunday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, abandoning his original plan to be at Raymond James Stadium.

The U.S. Olympic Committee said it was "disappointed in the behavior recently exhibited by Michael Phelps," who was selected the group's sportsman of the year. He also was honored as AP male athlete of the year, and his feat in Beijing - breaking Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record for most gold medals in an Olympics - was chosen as the top story of 2008.

"Michael is a role model, and he is well aware of the responsibilities and accountability that come with setting a positive example for others, particularly young people," the USOC said in a statement. "In this instance, regrettably, he failed to fulfill those responsibilities."

USA Swimming said its Olympic champions are "looked up to by people of all ages, especially young athletes who have their own aspirations and dreams."

"That said," the governing body added, "we realize that none among us is perfect. We hope that Michael can learn from this incident and move forward in a positive way."

Phelps was part of a group of elite athletes who agreed to take part in a pilot testing program designed to increase the accuracy of doping tests. His spot in the program could be at risk, said Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

"For one of the Olympics' biggest heroes it's disappointing, and we'll evaluate whether he remains in that program," Tygart said. "But some good education comes from this because he's going to suffer some penalties."

Marijuana is viewed differently from performance-enhancing drugs, according to David Howman, executive director of the World Anti-Doping Agency. An athlete is subject to WADA sanctions only for a positive test that occurs during competition periods.

"We don't have any jurisdiction," Howman said. "It's not banned out of competition. It's only if you test positive in competition."

Phelps returned to the pool a couple of weeks ago to begin preparations for this summer's world championships in Rome. He plans to take part in his first post-Olympics meet in early March, a Grand Prix event in Austin, Texas.

This isn't the first embarrassing episode for Phelps after an Olympic triumph. In 2004, a few months removed from winning six gold and two bronze medals in Athens, the swimmer was arrested on a drunken driving charge at age 19. He pleaded guilty and apologized for the mistake.

In his book "No Limits: The Will to Succeed," Phelps recounted how his first phone call was to his agent, and not his mother or coach Bob Bowman, because he knew they would yell at him.

Later, he called Bowman, who was supportive but told him, "Michael, just because you want to blow off some steam doesn't mean you can be an idiot."

Debbie Phelps, his mother, cried at the news.

"That hurt worse, maybe, than anything," Phelps wrote. "I had never seen my mother that upset."

Bowman did not respond to phone and e-mail messages. Instead, he issued a terse statement through Phelps' agent.

"He regrets his behavior, and I'm sure he'll learn from this experience," the coach said. "I'm glad to have him back in training."

Olympic teammate Dara Torres said Phelps has become such a prominent figure that everything he does is news.

However, she said: "This in no way, shape or form diminishes anything he's done."

"It's sort of a double-edged sword," Torres told the AP on Sunday. "When you're recognizable, you're looked up to as a role model. He is recognizable and everything you do gets looked at and picked apart. I guess that's the price of winning 14 Olympic medals."

Jason Lezak, whose remarkable anchor leg of the 400-meter freestyle relay helped Phelps stay on course to break Spitz's record, said he was "saddened" to hear of the report.

"While I don't condone his conduct, I am a teammate and fan," Lezak said in a text message to the AP. "Unlike many fair-weather people, I am sticking by him. If my wife and I can help him in any way, we will. I believe he will grow from this and be better person, role model and teammate."

Last year, News of the World posted video on its Web site showing Max Mosley, the president of motor racing's governing body, engaging in sex acts with five prostitutes. Mosley admitted to being a part of the scenario but sued for breach of privacy and was awarded $120,000. Another news break involved Prince Harry in 2002, smoking marijuana and drinking before the legal age of 18.

During the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was stripped of his gold medal in the giant slalom after testing positive for marijuana. The victory was reinstated because the sport's governing body did not have a rule banning the substance. Later that year, Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr. drew a three-month suspension after testing positive for pot.

"It's one of those substances that every year there's debate over it," said Howman, the WADA official.

The USOC's code of conduct only covers the period from when an athlete makes the Olympic team until the end of the games. But Howman suggested that U.S. swimming officials or the sport's world organization, FINA, could punish Phelps if there is "sufficient evidence to indicate possession, supply or distribution."

FINA officials said they would not comment on the matter until Monday, as did the International Olympic Committee.

"We have to be strong on these things," Howman said. "We certainly are relying on those who are responsible to look into this."

The USOC noted that Phelps acknowledged his mistake and apologized.

"We are confident that, going forward, Michael will consistently set the type of example we all expect from a great Olympic champion," the group said.

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  • by andrew Location: newport nrws on Feb 7, 2009 at 10:06 AM
    i think he should be punished but not put in jail. when we were in colledge around hiis age we did a little of this stuff but was stupid enough to put it on tape or nothing.. he should be punish but not lose his gold medals.. ۞ΨøwnHøMe6^z!Ψ۞ G.H.C..
  • by anonymous on Feb 3, 2009 at 11:56 PM
    I say, punish him!! NO EXCUSES!! Strip him of his medals like what happened to Marion Jones after she admitted with crocodile tears she uses steroids!! I hate drugs! If you're going to be a role model then dagnabbit live like one! Kids and adults for that matter sure have a dearth of people (both celebs and "ordinary" peeps) to look up to these days; the Ozzie and Harriet daze are sure a bygone memory. Betcha they didn't toke up on pot, or rap about killing people and raping women, etc.
  • by ~ALPHA female~ Location: O84P on Feb 3, 2009 at 09:13 PM
    He broke the law... he broke the law... he broke the law..., yea we all know this. We saw this picture! How many of you hypocrites went faster than the speed limit that was posted? Oh yea... 55 doesn't mean 60, 59, 58, 57, but that is OK? Phelps wasn't on the road... but some speeders were! I wonder who was more dangerous? Who could have killed someone other than themselves? Show me a picture of Phelps smoking weed from a bong while driving... then he owes the world an apology. Who did he hurt with that picture? Only himself... he doesn't owe me anything... He's isn't my role model... and me nor my family was in danger...so let this young man learn his lessons ...perfect people. Snoop from ...Cypress Hill... Fo shizzle, welcome to the wizzle!
  • by Maria Location: Greenville on Feb 3, 2009 at 08:12 PM
    They are not going to strip his medals because while he was in the Olympic games they tested the athletes and yeah smoking pot would appear on a test! And Parents if you are really worried about your kids and drugs well education starts at home not at school or in the media...you should be the role model for your kids. Also he's human and i think its a good lesson to learn for kids out there...dont do drugs because you will get caught sooner or later...by the way I still ADMIRE AND IM AMAZED BY PHELPS...to parents: You may be trying to hide your head in sand when it comes to humanity and mistakes...i bet your kid has done something that you are not very proud even if its not illegal...young adults are not perfect because their achievements...theres no perfection in our species!
  • by Bob Location: Belhaven on Feb 3, 2009 at 10:46 AM
    The fact of the matter is it is illegal, whether you believe it should be or not! I do admire him for his statement,(after being caught) and I did admire him for his statement, (after being caught drunk previously). I guess the next will be his apology after crack, cocaine, etc. I really don't care about his medals, he broke the law!
  • by Veronica Location: Greenville on Feb 3, 2009 at 10:44 AM
    I am not a drug user or a "supporter" of drugs use, but come on. The man won 8 Olympic gold medals.... Give this kid a break! He's got to be exhausted and needs a little relaxation! It's not like he was snorting coke, smoking crack, or shooting up heroin!!
  • by here Location: here on Feb 3, 2009 at 07:35 AM
    The DUI is much worse than alittle weed. Come on!!
  • by Dwayne Location: Greenville on Feb 3, 2009 at 07:10 AM
    JDW: No, it did not "occur to me". I am my children's role model. Did it occur to you that children have more than one role model? Unfortunately our culture places greater importance on atheletes and actors/actresses hence the disproportionate money they receive. Some people see the world thru narrow glasses. You should get out more JDW.
  • by Snoop Location: Cypress Hill on Feb 3, 2009 at 07:06 AM
    Someone said earlier that pot makes you dumb/lazy whatever. Let me just say one of the biggest pot heads I knew growing up was also one of the smartest. He is now a doctor. So what you need to think about is the possibility that your doctor, lawyer, judge or someone you leave your life or finances in the hands of may also smoke pot or has. Phelps is an olympic record holder and you will never know him on a person to person level so how much does it really matter what he does outside his arena? If you want a role model for your kids you should find one in the flesh and not on the t.v. AND if he was taking bong hits then it ain't like he was experimenting, he has smoked pot on tha regular just like most people his age, only difference is he has like 13 Olympic Gold Medals to his credit. I have to agree with whoever said it makes him seem more human-like. I can swim, I can take bong hits too, I think I'm gonna try out for the olympics now.... shout out to Alpha Female, I hope my taxes hep
  • by Chip Location: NOVA on Feb 3, 2009 at 06:12 AM
    It is illegal, so he shouldn't have been invloved with it, but let it go. 1) Should it really be illegal? 2 He did admit to making a mistake, better than William Jefferson~!! He didn't inhale~!

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