Michael Phelps must have known, as he waded through the fallout from his too-candid camera moment, that he'd have to dive into a prime-time interview at some point.
In a poolside interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, the 14-time Olympic gold medalist admitted to making a mistake and exercising "awful judgment" by partying among pot smokers last fall—a night out that ultimately cost Phelps his endorsement deal with Kellogg and earned him a three-month suspension from competitive swimming in the U.S.
"I had no idea really what to do," Phelps said, referring to the moment when he learned that a photograph of him holding a bong surfaced in a British tabloid on Jan. 31.
"I knew that I'd made a mistake and made a bad judgment," Phelps said. "And…I know that when you do make a mistake…you're responsible for all of the consequences. And I was willing to, you know, accept the fact that I did make a mistake."
Although Phelps has publicly apologized for his actions, he has never directly admitted to smoking marijuana.
The 23-year-old athlete said that the hardest part of the ordeal was knowing he had hurt and disappointed, not only his fans, but the people closest to him, as well.
"The contract side of things, yeah, I was disappointed. But, you know, I think the biggest thing is who I hurt the most. Like, if I lost money, OK. It's not an issue with me."
Kellogg, which dropped Phelps last month, reasoning that the swim champ's behavior was "not consistent with the image of Kellogg," recently donated thousands of boxes of cereal boasting Phelps' picture to a San Francisco food bank.
As for the night he unwittingly posed for the infamous bong pic, Phelps says he knew most of the guests at the party and there were only six or seven people there altogether.
"It was just a small group and we were just sitting around and celebrating," he said.
"People think, you know, it's funny at times" to take an impromptu cell phone picture, Phelps said. "I'll say that there are a lot of people out there who want to take advantage of any situation they have...I trusted my friends who were there, who they were.
"And clearly they weren't [trustworthy] people...Sometimes you learn the hard way."
Lauer's interview with Phelps is scheduled to air in two parts March 13 on Today and March 15 on Dateline.