Olympic swim star Michael Phelps acknowledges photo using pot pipe

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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Olympic great Michael Phelps acknowledged regrettable behaviour 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 behaviour which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment, Phelps said in the statement released by one of his agents. Im 23 years old and despite the successes Ive 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 schools 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 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 Sundays 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 behaviour recently exhibited by Michael Phelps, who was selected the groups sportsman of the year. He also was honoured as AP male athlete of the year, and his feat in Beijing breaking Mark Spitzs 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 fulfil 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 its disappointing, and well evaluate whether he remains in that program, Tygart said. But some good education comes from this because hes 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 dont have any jurisdiction, Howman said. Its not banned out of competition. Its only if you test positive in competition.

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 sports 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.

Its one of those substances that every year theres debate over it, said Howman.

Phelps returned to the pool a couple of weeks ago to begin preparations for this summers 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.

AP Sports Writers Beth Harris in Los Angeles, Eddie Pells in Denver, and Chris Lehourites and Steve Wilson in London contributed to this report.

Organizations: The Associated Press, Beijing Games, News of the World University of South Carolina Pittsburgh Steelers Arizona Cardinals U.S. Olympic Committee World Anti-Doping Agency USOC U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

Geographic location: Beijing, Tampa, Fla., Raymond James Stadium Rome Austin, Texas Los Angeles Denver London

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