Gus Kenworthy won’t be bothered if he doesn’t win a medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics. The three-time Olympic freeskier has already won.
In 2015, Kenworthy came out as gay, a rare announcement in the world of action sports. Three years later, at the 2018 Winter Olympics, he went viral for kissing his then-boyfriend Matthew Wilkas before his slopestyle qualification run. Kenworthy and Wilkas’ kiss was the first LGBTQ kiss broadcasted from the Olympics.
The kiss was a big deal for Kenworthy. Although he didn’t earn a medal in PyeongChang, he felt like a winner. “There’s been such a lack of [LGBTQ] representation that it’s nice to have that now,” Kenworthy said. “…Getting to be out and getting to go to the Olympics as an out gay man is something bigger than [any accolades].” Despite achieving this, Kenworthy still wanted to do one last thing before retirement.
The final box left to check in Kenworthy's career was something that eluded him his entire life: the chance to compete in the freeski halfpipe event at the Olympics. He was in contention to be named to the U.S. halfpipe team as a discretionary selection in 2014, but the coaches opted to pick teammate Torin Yater-Wallace for the spot instead. Then, Kenworthy narrowly missed the halfpipe team in 2018. Now, at his final Olympics, he's only competing in the halfpipe, and for another country.
In 2019, Kenworthy switched from competing for the U.S. to representing Great Britain. As a dual citizen who was born in Great Britain but grew up in Telluride, Colorado, he decided to make the change to honor his British mother, Pip.
Competing for Great Britain, a country with few elite-level freeskiers, meant that Kenworthy could spend more time focusing on training for his Olympic runs than trying to qualify for the Olympics. It also meant that there would be less pressure. For the past two Winter Olympics, Kenworthy had to compete against his American friends for a spot on the team. After switching to Great Britain, Kenworthy had relatively no competition and qualified a year early for the Olympic team without taking away a spot that another American athlete could’ve had instead. His early qualification was key in his journey to his final Olympics.
While training in Switzerland in October 2021, Kenworthy suffered from a bad concussion and then tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks later. He still felt lingering symptoms from the virus for at least six weeks after he tested negative. This hindered his ability to compete and caused him to withdraw from the first World Cup event of the season and Dew Tour. These were two notable absences because most snowboarders have to compete and place well at several eligible competitions in the season leading up to the Olympics in order to qualify for their national team. Since Kenworthy had already earned an early team spot, he only needed to worry about recovering in time for the Olympics.
At first, Kenworthy had his eyes set on competing in three disciplines: big air, slopestyle and halfpipe. He decided to call off his attempt at doing big air and slopestyle after seeing the event schedule for the Games. Big air was first, followed a week later by slopestyle and then ending with halfpipe two days later. Kenworthy was worried he would be too tired to perform well during the halfpipe event, so he played it safe.
Kenworthy’s career almost came to an end during the men's freeski halfpipe qualifier at the 2022 Winter Olympics, though. He fell on his first run. His second run was conservative and totaled 70.75 points, which originally slotted him 11th. Kenworthy had to wait in anticipation as the final riders dropped in for their last runs before breathing a sigh of relief. He was only bumped down one spot, to 12th, taking the last qualifying spot for the final. One point separated him from the next best competitor’s score. The final three runs of Kenworthy's career take place at 8:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 18.
Regardless of what happens during that final, Kenworthy is holding his head high. He's an Olympic silver medalist, competed in three snowboarding disciplines, represented two countries and most importantly, became an inspiration for LGBTQ athletes. His legacy is made.
"When I look back at my career," Kenworthy posted, "getting to compete as an out athlete and getting to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community has meant more to me than any medal or accolade ever could."