This gay skier's Olympic journey is a lesson for anyone struggling with their identity.
Four years ago, Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy hit the slopes in Sochi, Russia, with purpose, eventually landing on the podium with a silver medal. But he wasn’t completely satisfied.
After coming out in 2015, Kenworthy, 26, revealed to ESPN magazine the main reason he was disappointed with his performance: “I never got to be proud of what I did in Sochi because I felt so horrible about what I didn’t do. I didn’t want to come out as the silver medalist from Sochi. I wanted to come out as the best freeskier in the world.”
All Olympians dream of winning gold medals, but to Kenworthy, it was about more than marking personal athletic accomplishment. He’s eager to represent the LGBTQ community in America on the top of the podium as an openly gay man.
This year in Pyeongchang, Kenworthy may finally get to do just that. Today, he’s embracing his role as a representative of the LGBTQ community, competing in front of the entire world. And he’s primed for a gold medal.
Kenworthy in a ski jump. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.
In January, Kenworthy spoke with Reuters, saying he feels more confident than ever, in part because he’s able to be his authentic self.
“I am more open with everyone in my life and I think it just translates into me being able to ski a little bit more freely and not have so much to focus on and worry about.”
However, considering he’s one of only two openly gay male athletes to compete for Team USA in the Winter Olympics, he’s also probably feeling the weight of responsibility.
Kenworthy joins 28-year-old openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon this year and both athletes have welcomed this historic opportunity to use their platforms in positive and effective ways, speaking out about the importance of inclusion and diversity at the Olympics — and also in everyday life.
“I’m representing myself and my country on the world stage,” Rippon told USA Today. “I have a lot of respect for this opportunity. What makes America great is that we’re all so different. It’s 2018, and being an openly gay man and an athlete, that is part of the face of America now.”
“I’ve got more eyeballs on me,” Kenworthy told the Associated Press a couple of days before the start of the Winter Olympics. “My platform’s a lot bigger. I signed a bunch of Olympic sponsors, and I have the LGBTQ audience watching me, and I want to do right by them.”
In line with that, he started a new national campaign with Head & Shoulders called “Love Over Bias,” and he appears in a television commercial while proudly wearing a rainbow flag over his shoulders.
“I got to hold a pride flag in a national campaign for the first time in history and that’s just an amazing feeling,” he said on "Good Morning America" while promoting the campaign.
“It’s so much better on the other side, and living your life honestly and authentically is such an important thing that nothing should get in the way of that.”
Gus Kenworthy. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images.
Being known as a “gay athlete” and even as “the gay skier” doesn’t bother Kenworthy one bit. They are labels he’s not afraid of wearing, and he has no problem sharing his view on the subject.
“I’m definitely ‘The Gay Skier’ now, and that’s OK,” Kenworthy told the Associated Press. “I knew I was stepping into that role when I did it. In some ways, I don’t care that that’s the label that sticks. I took the step to come out publicly and I wear the badge proudly.”
For decades, LGBTQ athletes have struggled for acceptance in and out of locker rooms. Being out could mean losing sponsors, fans, friends, teammates, family, and in some cases, even a roster spot.
Like so many athletes before him, Kenworthy dealt with many of the same struggles. He performed at the highest level of competition while carrying the burden, stress, and heaviness of being in the closet. But he decided that being true to himself as both an athlete and a gay man far outweighed the risks.
As the world watches the Olympics unfold, there will plenty of young LGBTQ viewers and athletes among them. Kenworthy knows this. And he’s ready to show them that it’s more than OK to be true to who you are — it’s the best way to achieve your dreams.