FREESTYLE SKIER GUS KENWORTHY TALKS ABOUT HIS OLYMPIC JOURNEY, HIS LEGACY AND WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE GAMES.
Kenworthy combines high-flying ski action and strike-a-pose modeling as the face of Prada’s Linea Rossa campaign. PHOTO BY OLAV STUBBERUD/COURTESY OF PRADA
AT THE 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS IN PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy shared a kiss with his then-boyfriend just before his qualifying run in the men’s slopestyle event. Broadcast on NBC primetime, the kiss—more of a peck, really—went viral. Tender moments at the Olympics are otherwise unremarkable, but Kenworthy was one of only two openly gay male athletes ever to compete for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics (figure skater Adam Rippon also came out prior to the 2018 Games). While Kenworthy took home a silver medal in slopestyle back at the 2014 Games in Sochi, that moment in Pyeongchang will remain an indelible part of the skier’s legacy.
PHOTO BY OLAV STUBBERUD/COURTESY OF PRADA
Kenworthy has competed in slopestyle, big air and halfpipe at past Olympics—stomping impossibly acrobatic aerial tricks like the double cork 1440 (four horizontal spins and two flips on a nearly vertical axis). But in his bid for the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing this winter, he’s switching his focus to halfpipe. The 30-year-old has also switched from competing for Team USA to Team Great Britain. “In terms of actual national team selection, the U.S. has the most grueling qualification of any country because there’s such a deep pool of talent,” Kenworthy says. The decision was also personal. He switched allegiances as an homage to his mom, Heather “Pip” Tyler, who is British. “She’s not an American—she can’t vote in U.S. elections. She’s just this sweet little British lady with a British accent, but she’s been my number-one fan, wearing the Stars and Stripes and chanting ‘USA’ for two Olympic cycles. I wanted to do it for her.”
Kenworthy, high above the halfpipe at the 2018 Toyota U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix in Aspen Snowmass. PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. SKI & SNOWBOARD
Kenworthy, who was born in England and lives in L.A., grew up in Telluride, Colo., and he still has ties to the state. His two older brothers live in and around Telluride; his dad, Peter Kenworthy, is in Ridgway; and his mom is also in Telluride. “Telluride is just the most special place in Colorado. It’s home,” he says.
Celebrating a silver medal finish at the 2014 Sochi Games. PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. SKI & SNOWBOARD
Living in L.A. makes some sense for the skier. He played Chet Clancy in the ninth season of the horror anthology American Horror Story: 1984. He has modeled for Polo Ralph Lauren and Moncler, and most recently he’s the face of Prada’s high fashion signature Linea Rossa campaign. “Ralph Lauren is an Olympic sponsor, and they always pick a couple of athletes to model the looks,” Kenworthy says. The execs were happy with the shoot and signed Kenworthy on to model for a campaign featuring the brand’s Blue fragrance. He also did a pride campaign for H&M and a gig with Abercrombie & Fitch. Life after a career as a professional skier can be uncertain, but when Kenworthy retires from competition, he’ll have acting and modeling to fall back on—not to mention his courage, down-to-earth charisma and those ice blue eyes.
In 2019, the athlete switched from Team USA to Team Great Britain. PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. SKI & SNOWBOARD
Kenworthy has said for the record that the 2022 Games would be his last Olympics. “Honestly, I had considered retiring after 2018 and, had I won another medal there, I probably would have,” he says. At his first Olympics in Sochi, there was little pressure or expectation. “It was nice to be the dark horse,” he says. But for 2018, Kenworthy had a stable of Olympic sponsors watching and the pressure of being one of the first openly gay Americans to compete. Kenworthy came out in a 2015 ESPN cover story, which called him the first openly gay athlete in action sports, an umbrella term that covers skiing and snowboarding but also skateboarding, surfing, BMX, mountain bike and motocross. “At the time, there was not a single out person in action sports,” he says. The spotlight was intense.
Kenworthy clinched his Olympic bid for the Pyeongchang Games during the 2018 Toyota U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. SKI & SNOWBOARD
“I’d gotten to a point where I felt like the pain of holding onto this lie and the constant paranoia was actually worse than my fear of what might happen.”–GUS KENWORTHY, OLYMPIC FREESTYLE SKIER
While the initial reception to his coming out was largely positive and supportive, a lot of haters surfaced on the Twittersphere during the 2018 Olympic Games. “Every time I checked my phone, there were people being like, ‘I hope you break your leg, you faggot.’ Really horrible stuff,” he says. Kenworthy crashed in training and failed to lay down a solid run in competition. “I was like, OK, I’m not going to quit now. I think there’s more left in the tank,” he says. “But this really is my swan song. I just want to go out and land a run that I’m proud of.”
Kenworthy has a lot of irons in the fire, including serving as an ambassador for CBD wellness drink Beam. PHOTO BY DAVID SALAFIA/COURTESY OF BEAM
Kenworthy has always answered the cocktail-party icebreaker, “What do you do?” with “I’m a professional skier.” “That’s the identity crisis I’m having now,” he says. “I don’t know how I’m even going to introduce myself to people.” Well, he’s too modest to admit it, but he might say model, actor, investor, influencer, TV personality or writer, to name a few. Kenworthy served as an NBC correspondent at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, and there will surely be opportunities to commentate at future Winter Olympics. There are plenty of brands eager to align themselves with the skier. Kenworthy is already an investor, global athlete and wellness ambassador for Beam, a THC-free CBD wellness brand. And he’s written a few chapters for a memoir he’d like to publish someday. “It’ll be done in essays, kind of David Sedaris-esque,” he says.
Retiring from skiing will give Kenworthy time to pursue his little-known passions. “My biggest indulgence is art. I wouldn’t say I’m an art collector, because that would be obnoxious,” he says. He does, however, have two Andy Warhols—a Polaroid and an original drawing—as well as pieces by Tom of Finland and Mark Beard. “It’s my big splurge.”
Whatever is next for Kenworthy, his identity will always be wrapped up in being a trailblazer and role model for the LGBTQ community. He always thought he’d wait to come out until after he retired, like so many professional athletes do. “At that time, I just didn’t see how the two could coexist,” he says. “But I’d gotten to a point where I felt like the pain of holding onto this lie and the constant paranoia was actually worse than my fear of what might happen.” For Kenworthy, walking into the Opening Ceremonies at the 2018 Games as an openly gay athlete was more monumental than winning a silver medal in 2014. He felt the responsibility of representing the gay community acutely.
“I think I had a purpose at the Games, and I think that kiss with my ex-boyfriend is actually the reason I was there,” he says. Kenworthy knows he has a big audience and what he does and says can have an impact on people. “I take my role seriously,” he says. “I know there are other people in my sport, in action sports and even kids in small towns struggling in the closet. If I can help just one of them, then it’s all been worth it.”