WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Record-setting Olympic champion Michael Phelps Wednesday once again acknowledged his poor judgment over a controversial picture purportedly showing him smoking marijuana.
Despite the potentially damaging episode, world swimming’s governing body FINA is backing Phelps, while the U.S. Olympic Committee has contacted the embattled swimmer to help him avoid repeating a similar episode.
A photograph of Phelps was reported to have been taken in November at a party at the University of South Carolina and was published by British newspaper News of the World.
“It’s obviously bad judgment and it’s something I’m not proud of at all,” Phelps told the Baltimore Sun after completing a workout at Baltimore’s Meadowbrook Athletic Club.
“I will say that with the mistakes that I’ve made in my life, I’ve learned from them. Every one of them. And I’ve become a better person. That’s what I plan to do from here.”
The 23-year-old Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at last year’s Beijing Olympics, had previously said he was sorry for the incident and the International Olympic Committee said his apology was proof of his sincerity.
FINA said in a statement it has “confidence and admiration for a young champion that publicly apologized for his act.”
“As a citizen, Michael Phelps displayed inappropriate behavior, but his sincere regret and the promise that such a situation will not happen again are sufficient guarantees that this great star will continue generating respect and appreciation to all fans of our sport around the globe,” FINA said.
USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel told Reuters Phelps was sent a letter this week to “make sure he understood that we are ready to work with him and make sure he has the guidance and support he needs so that a situation like this doesn’t come up again.”
“He has accomplished extraordinary things in the pool,” Seibel said. “We know that he is interested in being just as consistent and successful away from the pool.
“Our purpose in writing him was to make sure he understands that we’re ready to help him in that, if in fact we can be helpful.”
While the Columbia (S.C.) police department has said it would not pursue charges against Phelps, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Tuesday he would file charges if he could prove Phelps smoked marijuana in his county.
FINA, however, said it would welcome the Baltimore native to its meets.
“FINA certainly counts on Michael Phelps to highlight the next editions of the FINA world championships and other prestigious swimming competitions in the future,” it said.
The News of the World did not say Phelps was smoking pot, but said that the glass pipe he was holding is generally used with marijuana.
Phelps has won 14 career Olympic gold medals making him the most successful competitor since the modern Olympics began in 1896.
Writing by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Nick Mulvenney