Michael Phelps: Swimming His Troubles Away?

By: Betsy Waldman / February 3, 2009

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, 23, was spotted heading into a Baltimore swimming complex this afternoon with a companion.

It’s the first time he’s been spotted in public since BongGate broke out over the weekend.

Phelps was photographed using a water pipe at a party at the University of South Carolina in November, and the picture was published in Britain’s News of the World over the weekend.

Phelps issued a public apology, and several celebrities and athletes have come to his defense.

But Phelps—who scored a record eight gold medals at last year’s Olympic games in Beijing—may not be out of hot water yet. Although some of his endorsement deals will reportedly continue, Phelps may still face criminal charges.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Richland County Sherrif Leon Lott says that he will charge Phelps with a crime if he determines that he was actually smoking marijuana with the bong.

Phelps was at the college party in Columbia, SC (where the school is located in Richland County) while visiting a girl he was dating at the time who is a student there, Jordan Matthews.

“This case is no different than any other case,” Lott said on Monday. “This one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It’s a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred.”

Possession of marijuana is punishable in Richland county by 30 days in jail or a $570 fine.

Thirty days in jail is a long way from multiple Sports Illustrated covers.