BALTIMORE – Michael Phelps says it's fair for USA Swimming to suspend him for three months, the latest fallout from a photo showing the Olympic great inhaling from a marijuana pipe. Phelps was back training at his regular pool Friday, a day after his suspension.
Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps answers questions from reporters before training at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center, February 6, 2009, in Baltimore. The swimming superstar has been suspended for three months and had his training stipend revoked by USA Swimming. [Agencies]
"It's not my decision. It's theirs," Phelps said of USA Swimming's decision. "I have nothing to say, but if that's they want to do, that's their choice. It's something that USA Swimming came up with. It's fair. Obviously, for a mistake you should get punished."
Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Beijing and returned to America as one of the world's most acclaimed athletes. He made headlines of a different kind, however, in the wake of the photo, published Sunday by News of the World, a British tabloid.
"It was bad and stupid judgment, and something I'll always live with," Phelps said, minutes before diving into the pool at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center, where he has trained since he was 7.
Although the fallout cost Phelps his Kellogg Co. sponsorship, Subway announced Friday it still supports him.
"Like most Americans, and like Michael Phelps himself, we were disappointed in his behavior," the statement said. "Also like most Americans, we accept his apology. Moving forward, he remains in our plans."
The fallout from the picture has been much greater than in 2004, when an underage Phelps was arrested for drunken driving three months after the Athens Olympics. He pleaded guilty and apologized to his fans, saying he wouldn't make the same mistake.
Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps trains at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center, February 6, 2009, in Baltimore. [Agencies]
Phelps wasn't sure how the negative publicity might influence his decision to compete in the 2012 London Olympics.
"I'm taking it step by step, day by day. There's still a long way between now and then," he said. "But I'm back here, I'm training for who knows what yet. But I'm back in the water, doing the thing I love."
That's a welcome diversion from the attention he's getting outside the pool.
"From waking up to megaphones outside your house at 7:30 in the morning to still photographers out there every day for the last four days from 7:30 to when I left for a workout, I can just do what's normal for me," he said. "And right now that's me coming to the pool every day."
His coach, Bob Bowman, said the suspension will alter his plans for Phelps, who recently resumed serious training with the goal of qualifying for this summer's world championships in Rome.
"It takes away some options from our planning. You know, we had a plan of meets to kind of get us ready for the end of the summer and now we'll have to adjust that," Bowman said. "That kind of comes with this territory."
With the three-month suspension he won't be able to take on any rivals until early May, which would give him a little more than two months of competition before July's world championships in Rome.
The US team for Rome will be chosen at the national championships July 7-11 in Indianapolis.
USA Swimming's decision to suspend Phelps didn't surprise Bowman.
"As a member of USA Swimming, I expected them to take action," Bowman said. "I think that we'll abide by it. I think it sends a very strong message to Michael and to others. I understand the disciplinary action."
And Phelps was thankful for those who have supported him.
"I've been getting messages on Facebook, both good and bad. E-mails, both good and bad. Text messages, all good," he said. "This is time when you need support. To have support from the majority of my sponsors, probably 90 percent, it means a lot. And it's something I'm very thankful for."
And what about his mother, Debbie Phelps?
"Mom wasn't happy," Phelps said. "She's been supportive through it, but wasn't happy."