SWIMMER TO SPEAK DESPITE POT PICTURES
A Calgary speaking engagement for record breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps will go ahead as planned despite the publication of photos that appear to show the elite American athlete smoking pot from a bong.
Toronto-based Power Within, the group organizing the March 3 event, said a survey of its clients and sponsors showed there is now even more interest in hearing what Phelps, 23, has to say.
"We're not changing our position on it," said Power Within founder Salim Khoja. "His message and his accomplishments speak for themselves.
"There's a lot of excitement about him in Calgary. Parents are planning to bring their kids."
Khoja said the tickets, which are selling for$229, are nearly 70 per cent sold.
Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in August but has been embroiled in controversy since a photo was published in British Tabloid the News of the World on the weekend. It shows him at a party in November apparently using a bong.
Phelps apologized for his behaviour, which he said was"regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," although he stopped short of admitting to smoking pot.
The International Olympic Committee said Monday the apology was proof of his sincerity and expected him to continue to act as a role model.
"We believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty," said Geoff Pradella, the acting chief executive of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, a co-sponsor of the event. "We believe it's important to provide a forum for debate and discussion on issues."
Sgt. Keith Hurley of the Calgary police drug unit said he supported Phelps during his Olympic run.
"It's sad to see a role model like that make a bad decision," he said.
Cascade Swim Club manager Jasen Pratt said the club's coaching staff is disappointed in Phelps' behaviour.
"It's stupid what he did and we can only hope young kids are a lot smarter than that," he said.
Mike Blondal, head coach of the University of Calgary Swim Club, said he, too, was disappointed but said worldwide media coverage has blown the incident out of proportion.
"I'm not condoning what he did, but I don't think we need to see life-size photos of him smoking a bong in newspapers. I don't think kids need to see that. Now kids are asking, 'What's a bong, mommy?'
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