Olympic star Phelps in hot water over pot-smoking picture:Hot and Latest News
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Olympic star Phelps in hot water over pot-smoking picture

HISTORY'S greatest Olympian, American swimmer Michael Phelps, is embroiled in a drugs scandal after a photograph that appeared to show him inhaling from a bong was published internationally.

The glass pipe is generally used to smoke cannabis.

London tabloid The News of the World obtained the photograph, which it said was taken at a party at the University of South Carolina on November 6.

The paper claimed Phelps went to the party with a girlfriend, who is a student there.

Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics last August and took an extended break after the Games to celebrate his success.

The initial newspaper report suggested evidence of cannabis use threatened Phelps's career as an athlete.

But Phelps wouldn't be banned as a drug cheat even if he were using cannabis in the image.

Cannabis is only a banned drug if an athlete tests positive in competition, and Phelps was not competing at the time.

However, the threat to his image and sponsorship earnings could be substantial.

USA Swimming could also penalise him for bringing his sport into disrepute.

Just last week, Phelps was declared the US Olympic Committee's male athlete of the year.

The News of the World claimed Phelps's management company, Octagon, offered it "a raft of extraordinary incentives not to run the bong picture".

"Spokesman Clifford Bloxham offered us an extraordinary deal not to publish our story, saying Phelps would become our columnist for three years, host events and get his sponsors to advertise with us," the paper said.

"In return, he asked that we kill the Phelps bong picture."

It is estimated Phelps is earning $US10 million a year in the wake of his Beijing heroics, but some conservative sponsors may reconsider being associated with him.

This latest indiscretion happened almost four years to the day since Phelps was arrested for drink-driving in November 2004, after he had won six gold medals at the Athens Olympics.

He made a public apology for his behaviour at the time, was given 18 months' probation and participated in a program to warn teenagers of the perils of under-age drinking.

The drinking age in his home state, Maryland, is 21.

Phelps reportedly kissed Australia's triple gold medallist Stephanie Rice at a party at the Beijing Games.

He was photographed last September with his hand on the bare bottom of a stripper at the Playboy Club in Las Vegas.

Phelps has not responded to the latest allegation.

Phelps finally returned to training in Baltimore a week ago to prepare for the world championships in Rome in July.
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