Michael Phelps, the 18-time Olympic gold medal swimmer and one of the most famous faces in international sports, was arrested early Tuesday in Baltimore and charged with driving under the influence.
Phelps was driving his white 2014 Land Rover on southbound Interstate 395 at 1:40 a.m. when a police officer clocked the vehicle traveling at 84 mph in a 45 mph zone, according to a statement released by the Maryland Transportation Authority. The officer followed Phelps through the Fort McHenry Tunnel and onto I-95, where Phelps was stopped and subsequently failed standard field sobriety tests, the statement said.
He was cooperative, the statement said, and was taken into police custody and later released. The Baltimore Sun reported that Phelps also failed a breathalyzer test.
Phelps, whose dazzling career has been interspersed with other brushes with trouble, was also charged Tuesday with excessive speeding and crossing double lane lines.
“I understand the severity of my actions and take full responsibility,” the 29-year-old said in a prepared statement posted to his Twitter account and distributed by a representative at Octagon Olympics & Action Sports, which represents Phelps. “I know these words may not mean much right now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.”
USA Swimming also issued a statement addressing the incident.
“The news regarding Michael Phelps and his actions are disappointing and unquestionably serious,” it said. “We expect our athletes to conduct themselves responsibly in and out of the pool.”
Over the past decade, Phelps’s image has become split between a transcendent athlete who made swimming events the must-see showdowns of the Summer Olympics and that of a massively influential young man who occasionally makes poor choices.
“He just needs to use better judgment across the board and realize that, as an Olympian, more than almost any other kind of athlete, there’s an expectation that you’re going to be a role model,” said Carreen Winters, a crisis and reputation management expert with the public relations firm MWW.
Less than two months after Phelps became the story of the Athens Olympics by winning six gold and two bronze medals in 2004, he was charged with DUI in Salisbury, Md., later apologizing for his mistake. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation.
In 2008, shortly after dominating the Beijing Games and breaking Mark Spitz’s record with eight gold medals, he was photographed smoking from a bong during a party at the University of South Carolina. The images appeared in a British tabloid, and in response, Phelps again cited his youth — he was 23 at the time — and vowed that such “regrettable” behavior would not happen again.
Phelps, who grew up in the Baltimore area and became a young star at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, apologized but was nonetheless handed a three-month suspension from swimming, and several sponsors dropped him.
Attempts to reach Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman, and his mother, Debbie Phelps, were unsuccessful. E-mails seeking reaction from several of Phelps’s sponsors went unreturned, and a representative of Speedo, a former sponsor, responded only with two words: “No comment.”
Phelps was in the midst of a comeback following a brief retirement after the 2012 London Olympics in which he won six more medals — including four golds — driving his career medal count to 22. He has not yet announced his plans for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.