Olympic Champion Michael Phelps Acknowledges 'Bad Judgment' After Photo Showing Apparent Use of 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. Video by AP
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 2, 2009

Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps acknowledged using "bad judgment" and engaging in "regrettable" behavior a day after a British tabloid published a photo in which he appeared to be using marijuana.

Though Phelps will not face any sanction from anti-doping authorities for the apparent drug use because marijuana is only prohibited during competition, the U.S. Olympic Committee immediately released a statement chiding Phelps for failing to "fulfill [his] responsibilities" as a role model and describing Phelps's behavior as "disappointing."

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

Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in August, appears in advertising for several companies, including Visa, Omega, AT&T and Speedo.

"He probably will take some hit with this," said Bill Mallon, an Olympic historian. "Corporations, sponsors, a lot of those put behavior clauses in contracts. . . . [But] it's marijuana. Our president smoked it. Clinton smoked it. It's not the worst drug in the world by any means."

Phelps, who had been in Tampa last week for the Super Bowl, left before the game and was not available to comment. His mother, Debbie Phelps, did not return a call seeking a comment. His coach, Bob Bowman, issued the following statement: "Michael has issued his statement. He regrets his behavior and I'm sure he'll learn from this experience. I'm glad to have him back in training."

The British weekly tabloid News of the World reported that Phelps took several draws from a glass bong handed to him at a Nov. 8 college party in Columbia, S.C. A photo accompanying the story showed a man who appeared to be Phelps, wearing a backward-turned baseball cap and white T-shirt, with his mouth against the instrument.

This is the second time Phelps has gotten himself in trouble with post-Olympic partying. After winning six gold medals at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Phelps received 18 months probation after pleading guilty to driving while impaired in Salisbury, Md. In that case, he had left a collegiate party in his Land Rover and been pulled over on Nov. 4, 2004.

Phelps learned of the newspaper's intention to publish the photo late last week, according to a source close to Phelps. He is "in discussion" with his sponsors, the source said, and all have "expressed support." The source also noted that Phelps faces no positive test or drug ban for the marijuana use.

According to the 2009 World Anti-Doping Code, which governs Olympic drug-testing, marijuana is only banned when athletes are competing.

Phelps moved back to his native Baltimore at the conclusion of the Games after having spent the previous four years in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he attended school at the University of Michigan. He took four months off from swimming after the Olympics, playing poker in Las Vegas, appearing on late-night television, traveling to home and away Baltimore Ravens games and flying back to China to seal an advertising deal.

Just over a week ago, he was named the USOC's male Athlete of the Year, and Sports Illustrated named him its Sportsman of the Year in December. He said during a conference call that he had returned to training and hoped to compete at the swimming world championships in Rome this summer.

"We are disappointed in the behavior recently exhibited by Michael Phelps," the USOC's statement said. "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. In this instance, regrettably, he failed to fulfill those responsibilities. Michael has acknowledged that he made a mistake and apologized for his actions. We are confident that, going forward, Michael will consistently set the type of example we all expect from a great Olympic champion."

USA Swimming, the sport's national governing body, issued a statement as well: "We are certainly disappointed in Michael's behavior. . . . That said, we realize that none among us is perfect. We hope that Michael can learn from this incident and move forward in a positive way."

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