All-time top Olympian Michael Phelps carried the U.S. flag in the Olympic opening ceremony in Rio and has picked up his 19th gold medal as part of the U.S. men’s 100-meter freestyle relay. Caught smoking a bong at University of South Carolina house party weeks after he won eight gold medals at the Bejing Olympics in 2008, the swimmer — who kept most of his endorsement deals after denouncing his “regrettable” behavior — has still managed to become a symbol of successful Olympians who once partook in cannabis.
This is the fifth time Phelps has qualified for the Games, and at the age of 31 he’s the oldest Olympic swimmer since Duke “The Big Kahuna” Kahanamoku competed in 1924. The third oldest Olympic swimmer, who competed at the age of 29, was Gary Hall, Jr., who also had a history with marijuana.
Cannabis was added to the International Olympic Committee’s list of banned substances after the 1998 Winter Olympics, when Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati tested positive for pot after winning the first-ever snowboarding gold medal. That same year Hall was suspended for three months after he tested positive for pot, but later appealed the matter.
Hall argued his marijuana test wasn’t a second offense because in 1996, when he first tested positive at the Atlanta Olympics, marijuana wasn’t yet banned. He refused to pay a fine, saying, “If that means I won’t compete in Sydney, then so be it. It’s a matter of principle.” The U.S. swimming federation paid Hall’s fine, and he went on to win four medals in 2000, and two more at the 2004 games in Athens.
Perhaps marijuana smoking gives athletes the long view, allowing Phelps and Hall to compete in their later years. Some say getting high helps with repetitive tasks (like swimming) and it’s been speculated that Phelps was treating his ADHD with cannabis; more and more studies are showing it’s an effective treatment.
Look for more controversy around cannabis and the Olympics, as skateboarding and surfing will be added at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
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