WASHINGTON, February 5 – Olympic superstar turned tabloid target Michael Phelps told the Baltimore Sun that the incident that produced a photo of him apparently smoking marijuana was "stupid".
"It’s obviously bad judgment and it’s something I’m not proud of at all," the 23-year-old said. "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."
Phelps answered questions for nearly 10 minutes after training at the Meadowbrook Athletic Club pool. It was his first interview since Britain’s News of the World published a photograph in which he appeared to inhale from a glass pipe of the kind used to smoke marijuana.
Asked if he was a regular marijuana user, Phelps said he wasn’t.
"This was stupid, and I know this won’t happen again," he told the Sun.
Since the photo was published on Sunday, Phelps said, he has come under intense scrutiny – of a far different sort than he received in the wake of his unprecedented eight gold medals at the Beijing Games.
"I’ve been waking up to guys yelling into megaphones outside my window at 7 o’clock in the morning," Phelps said. "I’ve had paparazzi people following me from my house to my mom’s house. People knocking on the door."
It’s not the first time Phelps has had to polish his image. In 2004, after he won six gold medals and two bronze at the Athens Olympics, the 19-year-old Phelps pleaded guilty to drunken driving and received 18 months probation.
"I think this is like the DUI, in that it’s something I can talk more about and make sure that nobody makes the same mistakes I made," Phelps said. "What I’ve gone through in the last week, no one wants to go through."
But Phelps has received some support. FINA, the world governing body of swimming issued a statement on Wednesday to "reiterate its confidence and admiration for a young champion that publicly apologized for his act."