Repentant Phelps back to training

Updated: February 5, 2009, 8:41 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Michael Phelps says he is going to have to live with the fallout from a photo of him smoking from a marijuana pipe, the Olympic champion told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday.

Phelps said he is embarrassed and he "clearly made a mistake."

"It's obviously bad judgment and it's something I'm not proud of at all," Phelps told The Sun. "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. It's definitely not what I wanted, and it's clearly not what my mom wanted."

Phelps spoke to The Sun for 10 minutes after practice at Meadowbrook Athletic Club in Baltimore.

"This was stupid, and I know this won't happen again," he told The Sun when asked if he regularly smokes marijuana.

Phelps said going to the pool and training has helped him deal with the scrutiny.

"I've been waking up to guys yelling into megaphones outside my window at 7 o'clock in the morning," Phelps told The Sun. "I've been through just about everything you can go through. I've had paparazzi people following me from my house to my mom's house. People knocking on the door.

"What I've gone through in the last week, no one wants to go through."

The U.S. Olympic Committee is offering Phelps a refresher course in good behavior.

CEO Jim Scherr said Wednesday he'd like to have a face-to-face meeting with the star of the Beijing Olympics, and spokesman Darryl Seibel said the federation was sending Phelps a letter offering its assistance.

Phelps, winner of eight gold medals in Beijing, has apologized after a photo surfaced showing him smoking from a marijuana pipe at a party. The USOC wants to help Phelps avoid a repeat.

"Based on this occurrence, we at the USOC, as we said in an earlier statement, are exceptionally disappointed in him, as he is in himself," Scherr said during a conference call that was set to preview the 2010 Winter Olympics, but also included several mentions of Phelps. "We'll follow up and have a direct conversation with him and people close to him."

The USOC can't do much to penalize him. Anti-doping rules don't call for sanctions against athletes who test positive for marijuana when they're not competing. And the USOC's code of conduct doesn't apply to athletes once the games are over.

Mainly, Phelps is trying to avoid backlash on the sponsorship side, where most of the feedback so far has been positive, and in the public perception side, where things are still shaking out.

"I think, obviously, his sponsors and people close to him will be and are concerned about whether this may be a recurrence or whether this is a pattern of behavior," Scherr said.

Several of Phelps' sponsors -- including Visa, apparel company Speedo and luxury Swiss watchmaker Omega -- have expressed their support of the athlete, who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics last summer.

"I have a relationship with all of my sponsors and they are really like family," Phelps said. "It's been like that for our whole partnership together. And it's good to have support in a time like this. This is when you most need it."

He was also appreciative of the backing he's gotten from those close to him.

"Right now, at a time like this, this is when you really know who are your real friends and family," said Phelps, 23. "At a time like this, you really notice who is there in good times and in bad. And I have had a lot of support and that is something I am thankful for."

Phelps was arrested for drunken driving a few months after winning six gold and two bronze medals at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

FINA, swimming's governing body, praised Phelps on Wednesday for his public apology.

"As a citizen, Michael Phelps displayed inappropriate behavior," FINA said in a statement. "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."

Also on the USOC call was speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, the biggest star of the Salt Lake City Games, who is trying for his third Olympics next year. He fielded a couple of questions about how to handle fame in an age of camera phones and the Internet.

"Once we're allowed to call ourselves U.S. Olympic athletes, there are certain guidelines and protocols that go along with that," Ohno said. "I think it's important to represent what you'd like your mom to see or what you'd like little kids to see. It's important to be aware of your surroundings and the choices you make."

Athlete behavior has become a significant issue for the USOC over the past two Olympics. A slew of bad behavior by Bode Miller and other winter athletes became a prime topic at the Turin Games in 2006.

The USOC set up its "Ambassador Program" shortly after that to coach athletes on how to act in the spotlight, especially on foreign soil -- a move also timed to help summer athletes maneuver their way through the tricky political climate of the Beijing Olympics.

Scherr said the USOC's help doesn't end once athletes are out of the Olympic program.

"Our focus has been making sure they understand the obligation of being an Olympian whether it's competing in the Olympic arena or in their post-Olympic lives," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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