Phelps Suspended for Three Months

By PAUL NEWBERRY and BETH HARRIS
|  Friday, Feb 6, 2009  |  Updated 6:21 AM CDT
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What Was Phelps Thinking?

Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated

Michael Phelps: Sports Illustrated's 2008 Sportsman of the Year

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What Was Phelps Thinking?

Swimmer Michael Phelps isn't commiting to the world championships or the next Olympics after a picture of him with a bong surfaced, but he still says the pool is a huge part of his life.

What Was Phelps Thinking?

Swimmer Michael Phelps isn't commiting to the world championships or the next Olympics after a picture of him with a bong surfaced, but he still says the pool is a huge part of his life.
More Photos and Videos

ATLANTA  — Michael Phelps has been suspended from competition for three months by USA Swimming in the latest fallout from a photo that showed the Olympic great inhaling from a marijuana pipe.

The sport's U.S. governing body also cut off its financial support to Phelps for the same three-month period, effective Thursday.

"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," the federation said in a statement.

"Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust."

Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Beijing to become one of the world's most acclaimed athletes. Now he's enduring a wave of bad news in the wake of the photo, published Sunday by the News of the World, an English newspaper.

Earlier Thursday, cereal and snack maker Kelloggs announced it wouldn't renew its sponsorship contract with Phelps, saying his behavior is "not consistent with the image of Kellogg." The swimmer appeared on the company's cereal boxes after his Olympic triumph.

USA Swimming provides a $1,750 monthly stipend to national team members to help defray travel and training expenses, plus performance bonuses. However, it's a small percentage of the millions Phelps makes through endorsements.

"Michael accepts these decisions and understands their point of view," said one of his agents, Drew Johnson. "He feels bad he let anyone down. He's also encouraged by the thousands of comments he's received from his fans and the support from his many sponsors. He intends to work hard to regain everyone's trust."

Phelps' coach Bob Bowman believes the swimmer will emerge from the experience stronger.

"Michael's been through a lot and he's learned a lot, hopefully," Bowman told The Associated Press during a telephone interview. "I support him and I want to see him do better. I'm here, as always, to try to help him move forward. He's learned some tough lessons and he's disappointed a lot of people, me included."

Phelps has acknowledged "regrettable" behavior and "bad judgment." He didn't dispute the authenticity of the photo, reportedly taken at a house party while Phelps was visiting Columbia, South Carolina, in November during an extended break from training.

"I certainly understand USA Swimming needed to take action," Bowman said. "We will certainly abide by everything they've put down."

The 23-year-old has resumed training in his home city Baltimore, but his plans to return to competitive swimming will have to be put on hold. Phelps had planned to compete in early March at a Grand Prix meet in Austin, Texas.

Now, he won't be able to compete until early May, which would give him a little more than two months for some racing before July's world championships in Rome.

"This is the result of a poor decision Michael made," U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said in an e-mail. "He understands there is accountability and has pledged to not repeat this in the future. We have offered our assistance to make certain he is as consistent and successful away from the pool as he is in it, and we are confident that will happen."

After the suspension, Phelps would be able to compete at a May meet in Charlotte, North Carolina; there's another Grand Prix competition in Santa Clara, California, the following month. The U.S. team for Rome will be chosen at the national championships, which begin July 7 in Indianapolis.

"He's been very good in practice," Bowman said. "He feels good to be back in the water. Certainly, he's not in very good shape.

"We're anxious to get back to a really normal routine and we have. We're moving on."

Several of Phelps' Olympic teammates rallied to his defense. Among them was Dara Torres, the 41-year-old silver medalist whom Phelps jokingly referred to in Beijing as "Mom."

"I see him as a kid trying to grow up in the most intense spotlight known to any athlete. He has apologized and what else can he do?" she told the AP by telephone. "The thing I hope is that people realize Michael is still a person and not just a swimming hero."

"He didn't let the USA down at the games, so we shouldn't let him down."

Torres doesn't expect a three-month suspension in a non-Olympic year to have much affect on Phelps' career. He intends to compete at the 2012 Olympics in London.

"Knowing Michael the way I do, I guarantee you it's going to make him want to do well," Torres said. "All this is going to do is light a fire under him."

Amanda Beard compared Phelps' ordeal to some of the disdain she faced after posing nude in Playboy magazine before the Beijing Games.

"If anyone knows public scrutiny, it's me," the four-time Olympian said in a text message. "When I posed for Playboy, so many officials looked down on me. Michael knows he isn't a bad person. He made a mistake. People need to get over it. I want to cheer him on in London."

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