Michael Phelps says he 'engaged in behavior which was regrettable' and used 'bad judgment.'
Hassan Ammar / AP Enlarge
NEW YORK - Record-breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps issued an apology yesterday after a British newspaper published a photograph showing him smoking a marijuana pipe.
The swimmer who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games did not dispute the authenticity of the exclusive picture published yesterday by the tabloid News of the World.
"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," Mr. Phelps said.
U.S. officials said the news was disappointing but stressed that smoking marijuana out of competition was not an anti-doping matter at this point.
"Obviously it is very disappointing and a terrible decision by Michael," U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart told Reuters. "To a certain extent, he let down the world."
The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming also expressed disappointment.
"Our Olympic champions are role models who are looked up to by people of all ages, especially young athletes who have their own aspirations and dreams," USA Swimming said.
"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."
The U.S. Olympic Committee had a similar response.
"We are disappointed in the behavior recently exhibited by Michael Phelps," USOC said.
The News of the World said the photograph of Mr. Phelps was taken at a house party being held by students at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., in November.
The newspaper did not say Mr. Phelps was smoking marijuana but said the glass pipe the swimmer was photographed using generally was used to smoke the weed.
During that trip, he attended one of the school's football games and received a big ovation when he was introduced to the crowd.
The British newspaper anonymously quoted a partygoer who said the Olympic champion was "out of control from the moment he got there."
Mr. Phelps, who has never failed a doping test, promised in his statement there would be no repeat of his behavior.
"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," Mr. Phelps said.
"For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public - it will not happen again."
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.
Mr. Phelps was in Tampa during Super Bowl week to make promotional appearances on behalf of a sponsor. But he left the city before yesterday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, abandoning his original plan to be at the game.
This isn't the first embarrassing episode for Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. 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," Mr. Phelps wrote. "I had never seen my mother that upset."