As he prepares for his final Olympic Games appearance, and his first in British colours, Freestyle icon and Sochi 2014 silver medallist, Gus Kenworthy, knows he’s got support behind him
It remains one of the Olympic Winter Games’ most enduring and historic moments. As Gus Kenworthy, the then-reigning Olympic Men’s Slopestyle silver medallist, lined up for his qualifying run at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, he and his boyfriend shared a kiss. An act of simple companionship, support, and love but one that resonated across the world as a striking moment of platform for the LGBTQ+ community on the world’s biggest stage. BBC Sport later called it a seminal moment in sport. It catapulted the Freeski icon to another level of public fame.
Then, of course, Kenworthy was lining up as part of the US Ski and Snowboard Team, just as he had when he took silver in Sochi in 2014. Now, heading into his third Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, he enters as one of the sport’s statesmanlike figures, and will travel as part of Team GB having switched allegiance to the country of his birth.
For Kenworthy, it represents a moment of familial pride. “I know my mom is very proud and excited to see me compete in the Olympics for Britain,” he explains as we sit down with him in the weeks before he travels to Beijing. “It’s not that it’s changed so much for me – my sport’s an individual sport, I train on my own regime, and I’ve known a lot of the guys in the GB Snowsport squad years now – but getting closer to the athletes who’ll be out there as part of Team GB has been an amazing experience and opportunity.”
Kenworthy’s freeski story goes back to his youth, and for well over a decade he’s been one of the sport’s most recognisable faces, both for his remarkable skill on the snow and his willingness to try his hand at new things. Looking back, does he see much change from when he started out? “Oh, absolutely”, he agrees. “I think I’ve grown a lot as an athlete, of course, but definitely more as a person. I’ve been on the professional circuit for more than 14 years now, and everything has changed. Whether it’s the ways I train, the way I recover, or who I am as a person. It’s all evolved.”
For a man with a wealth of outside interests, it’s clear that life as a ski athlete has created kinship for Kenworthy, despite the rivalries that exist out on the slopes. “Sure, there’s always a bit of competitiveness. It’s an individual sport and obviously you want to win, to be the best, but there’s camaraderie there too. Some of my fellow competitors, and my coaches, have been friends for years. I’ve been skiing almost half my life, so these people, they’ve become almost like family.”
If there’s something almost valedictory about the way Kenworthy talks about his life on snow, it’s perhaps not a surprise. The Beijing Olympic Winter Games will be his last – “definitely my last!” he clarifies – and he recently bowed out of a storied X Games career with 32 competitions under his belt. Whereas some athletes might experience some understandable anxiety about what comes next, Kenworthy is brimming with ideas.
“I’m excited to see what’s in store for me!”, he laughs. “I’m looking forward to taking some time off, and I can’t wait to just ski for fun!” And after that? “I’m excited to continue acting,” (his current credits include a season-long stint on American Horror Show, as well as appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Will & Grace). “I’ve taken a couple of acting classes already, and I plan on taking more once I’m done competing. And I’d love to write an autobiography too!”
All that’s for the future, of course. For now, Kenworthy’s focus is firmly on Beijing, even if the path to the Games isn’t quite what was mapped out when he made the switch from the US to representing GB.
“Yeah,” he sighs, “it’s definitely been different leading up to these Olympics compared to the past two Games.” Covid, of course, has played its part. “The travel restrictions have meant our training schedules and routines have been completely different, and I think that’s a challenge every Olympian has been facing. My team and coaches have been going an amazing job helping us navigate this new normal, though. I’ve been in the US training, and my focus is on winning a medal for Team GB. We’re just going to work as hard as we can to make that a reality.”
His efforts and superstar quality means he’ll have plenty of supporters here in Britain, and that’s something Kenworthy is all too aware of.
“I’m really proud to be wearing the Union Flag and representing Great Britain in these Games. I’ve still got a lot of family members in the UK, too, and I know they’ll be cheering me extra hard as part of Team GB.”
Gus Kenworthy Biography:
- Born: 1991
- Discipline: Freeski
- Squad: World Cup Squad
- Hometown: Telluride, USA