Michael Phelps' Louis Vuitton Leaked Photo May Defuse Olympic Rule 40

Michael Phelps Louis Vuitton Ad - H 2012

Michael Phelps Louis Vuitton Ad - H 2012

The record-breaking Olympic swimmer denied authorizing a leak of the ad.

Michael Phelps is NOT in hot water as a result of posing in his Speedo for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton.

The photo featuring Phelps in a bathtub, snapped by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, was leaked online during the London games earlier this month. A major no-no. According to the Olympics' Rule 40, athletes are prohibited from appearing in unapproved ads in order to protect corporate sponsors before, during and shortly after the games.

The image was quickly denied as being part of Vuitton's ad campaign. And it was not officially released by the luxury house until Aug. 16, the day after Rule 40 stopped applying.

Questions followed about whether an un-attributed leakage constituted a violation of the much-talked-about Rule 40; U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky maintains that Phelps remains in compliance because he did not authorize the early release of the photos.

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Phelps’ agent, Peter Carlisle, also dismissed any suggestion that Phelps had violated the rule, tweeting: "Rule 40 applies to athletes who permit use of their name during the Games; it doesn't apply to unauthorized uses (which, unfortunately, are common).” 

Louis Vuitton’s reps have told media outlets the company was not responsible for the leak. Leibovitz’s agent said the same thing.

But if it wasn't Phelps, which is highly unlikely since he and his camp certainly are familiar with Rule 40, and if it wasn't Vuitton or Leibowitz ... then who was it?  Most likely to gain from the early release is LV, whose brand name was linked to the Olympian in traffic-getting headlines such as "Michael Phelps Strips Down for Louis Vuitton" on Aug. 13, while people were still obsessively watching the events in London.

Rule 40 was also subjected to social media ridicule during the games when track and field competitiors tweeted their displeasure, using the hash tags #rule40 and #wedemandchange.

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Middle distance runner Leo Manzano wrote on his Facebook page that he’d been forced to take down comments on his running shoes because of the rule. Relay Olympian Manteo Mitchell, who became a hero for completing his race with a broken fibula, expressed his opposition via Twitter: "I am PROUD to represent my Country... but at the end of the day... THIS IS MY JOB!!!!!!"

Both Manzano and Mitchell are sponsored by Nike. But Adidas sponsored the London games.

You can see more of Phelps' involvement with Vuitton on the label's website. Since Phelps seems to have successfully gotten around Rule 40, we wonder if more athletes will try the "unauthorized" and/or "leaked" product photo route during the next Olympic Games. 

How do you feel about Rule 40? Is it unfair to the athletes? Or is it smart to protect the corporate sponsors who spend millions to make the games possible?