BEIJING -- Olympic champion Michael Phelps has apologized to Chinese fans for what he called his "regrettable behavior" after he was photographed with a marijuana pipe.
Phelps spoke via the Internet on a video that appeared widely Thursday on Chinese-language Web sites. The Chinese-language newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily said the Web sites had received the statement from automaker Mazda, which is reported to be paying Phelps more than $1 million to endorse the car brand in China.
"As many of you know, I recently engaged in behavior which was regrettable and not what people have come to expect from me," Phelps said, with his apology subtitled in Chinese.
"The past few days have been tough for me, but I've received support and encouragement online from so many Chinese friends."
Last month Phelps was back in Beijing -- where he won a record-breaking eight gold medals -- to do commercials and endorsements for automaker Mazda.
Like most of his major sponsors, Mazda is apparently sticking with Phelps as a spokesman. However, the Kellogg Co. has cut ties with Phelps, saying it had made a business decision not to extend his endorsement contract. The cereal and snack maker said Phelps' behavior was "not consistent with the image of Kellogg."
Chinese papers have followed the Phelps controversy closely, dubbing it "marijuana gate."
"To the young people of China, please learn a lesson from this," Phelps said. "Be positive in life, and do the right things. I've had so many great experiences in China over the past few years, and have enjoyed learning about your culture and your history.
"But it's the warmth and forgiveness in the messages I've received from China that has really lifted me up over the past few days. Thanks again for your support and encouragement. I look forward to returning to China soon."