***UPDATED February 5th, 10:20PM***
Michael Phelps was suspended from competition for three months by USA Swimming in the wake of the photo that showed the Olympic record-setting champion inhaling from a marijuana pipe.
The Associated Press reports:
The sport's national 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 Colorado Springs-based federation said in a statement.
***UPDATED February 5th, 5:20PM***
In an interview with a Baltimore TV station Thursday Phelps was asked about rumors that he would not compete in the 2012 Olympics in London. He avoided giving a clear answer, saying only that it would be "good to get back in the water."
In another TV interview Phelps was asked if he had "stopped all drugs now" to which he repeated his claim that he doesn't routinely take drugs, pointing out that he is drug tested all the time.
***UPDATED February 5th, 4:00PM*** Extra interviews Phelps and the Olympian firmly denies that he takes drugs, suggesting that the notorious photo of him smoking from a bong was a one-time lapse of judgment:
"Extra" has obtained an interview with Michael Phelps and the swimming phenomenon states, "I don't take drugs. I get drug tested all the time. You look at the records and you can see."
Phelps says it's in difficult times like these that you find out who your true supporters are.
***UPDATED February 3rd, 5:47PM***
HuffPost's Marcus Baram reports: If Michael Phelps is arrested, it would be a rarity in the recent history of drug prosecutions in Richland County, South Carolina.
Doug Strickland, the head of the Richland County Public Defender's office, told Huffington Post that in his 21 years as a public defender, he could not recall a case where someone was criminally charged with drug possession based on photographic evidence and an admission of non-specific wrongdoing.
"I cannot think of an instance where it's happened," said Strickland, pointing out that Phelps has not even confessed to possessing mariiuana, simply acknowledging "regrettable" behavior and "bad judgment."
"You have to prove that he possessed it and a photograph is not enough - If you wanted to press the issue, he could go out and locate who was there and squeeze them. That's a lot of effort for a misdemeanor that carries a fine of 30 days in jail or $500."
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who is known for a tough stance on drugs, rose through the ranks soon after the TV series "Miami Vice" hit the airwaves.
And he played the part, reports the Associated Press, wearing stylish suits and driving a Porsche.
***UPDATED February 3rd, 9:05AM*** Michael Phelps has so far emerged unscathed from the controversy created by the photo showing him smoking from a bong, with his sponsors still standing behind him. However, he still could face criminal charges if it's determined that he was smoking marijuana, which shouldn't be too difficult considering there's a photo and Phelps has already confessed:
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says he will charge Michael Phelps with a crime if he determines the Olympics hero smoked marijuana in Richland County...
...Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $570 fine, plus court costs.
But Lott seems to be the only person talking about making a case against Phelps. Both the USC and Columbia Police Departments said they would not pursue charges.
***UPDATED February 1st, 1:30PM*** Michael Phelps has acknowledged that the photo showing him smoking marijuana from a bong is real. He released this statement:
I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.
EARLIER: Olympic Champion Michael Phelps, who vaulted to international stardom during the 2008 Summer Olympics by winning a record eight gold medals in swimming, has been caught in a very compromising position, according to a report by the British paper News of the World.
The paper has a photo of Phelps smoking from a bong, a water pipe normally used for smoking marijuana. (View the photo here.) The alleged photo was taken at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where Phelps was visiting a female student who he was secretly seeing. The paper's anonymous source relates that Phelps partied hard each night he was there, which is not out of keeping with other reports of the Olympian since his swimming triumphs.
News of the World also makes the very provocative claim that people representing Phelps tried to snuff out the story and offered the paper extraordinary incentives not to publish.
For all things Michael Phelps, check out HuffPost's Michael Phelps BigNews Page.