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
While the newspaper did not specifically allege that Phelps was
smoking pot, it did say the 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
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
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 immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages
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
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.
He said U.S. officials and swimming's world organization, could
punish Phelps - perhaps under code of conduct rules - if there is
"sufficient evidence to indicate possession, supply or
"We have to be strong on these things," Howman said. "We
certainly are relying on those who are responsible to look into
The USOC noted that Phelps acknowledged his mistake and
"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.
AP Sports Writers Beth Harris in Los Angeles, Eddie Pells in
Denver, and Chris Lehourites and Steve Wilson in London contributed
to this report.