Michael Phelps Pot-Smoking Pic Grips World*


*UPDATE: Michael apologizes for “regrettable behaviour.”  Still no word from his marketing firm on the hush-bribe allegation.

AP: In a statement released to The Associated Press, the swimmer who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games did not dispute the authenticity of the exclusive picture published Sunday by the tabloid News of the World.

”I engaged in behaviour which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” Phelps said. ”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: A UK tabloid photo of “Michael Phelps” taking a bong hit has captivated web searchers this morning.  “Michael Phelps smoking weed,” “phelps marijuana,” and other related terms are soaring up the Google Trends charts.

What’s interesting from a business perspective, though, is the alleged attempt of Phelps’ marketing firm, Octagon, to kill the story:

Phelps is represented by marketing giant Octagon, which works with huge brands such as Mastercard and HSBC. They admitted proven cannabis use would be “a major taint” on Phelps’ character.

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.

In return, he asked that we kill Phelps’ bong picture. Bloxham said: “It’s seeing if something potentially very negative for Michael could turn into something very positive for the News of the World.”

It will be interesting to see how Octagon (and Phelps) respond to that one.  (It seems inconceivable that they could be that stupid.  So perhaps it’s just a space-alien abduction story).

If the story proves true, it will also be interesting to see whether this will have any more of an impact on Phelps’ marketability than the arguably more serious DUI bust did.  Doubtful.

The US Olympic team, meanwhile, has been quiet on the matter.

Full News of the World story here >.  Pictures of alleged stripper girlfriend here >