Gus Kenworthy: From pop culture celebrity to Beijing 2022, Olympic winter looks to leave its last mark on skiing
Kenworthy won the silver medal in downhill swimming for the USA at Sochi 2014, but thanks to his British connections, he is now competing for Great Britain, with a chance to become the first male athlete to win a GB Olympic medal in free skating in Beijing.
“Having to represent my mom and this aspect of my heritage and my motherland, it’s amazing and that’s definitely a cause and something I’m excited about,” Kenworthy told CNN ahead of the men’s free skating events in Beijing 2022.
Having previously competed with the United States in two of the previous Winter Olympics, Kenworthy explains that only four athletes per team, discipline and gender can compete in each event, so part of the reason for his conversion was due to “self-preservation.”
Since access to the sport is much greater in the US than in the UK, it stands to reason that there would be many less competitive skaters in his country of birth.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say it was an easier rehabilitation process,” Kenworthy said. “The United States is a very arduous process.”
The pop culture star – Kenworthy who starred in “American Horror Story” – says he wants to change this lack of participation in the UK and hopes his recognition as an athlete and his personality will appeal to a wider audience for the sport.
“I think seeing skiing and snowboarding at the Olympics, I hope you spark interest in the sport and people will go out and rent skis and rent snowboards and try it out and I hope I fall in love with the sport the same way I did,” he said.
“Obviously it’s a really expensive sport, so I don’t expect everyone to jump to France for ski holidays. I just hope you get people excited about the sport.”
For budding winter athletes in the UK, there are alternatives to alpine jet-riding, with indoor snow flats in many cities, as well as many dry ski slopes across the country.
Regret the snow
Sometimes Kenworthy’s Olympic run would read like a movie script.
After his silver medal in Sochi in 2014, the now three-time Olympian has quickly sprung up to save a family of stray dogs while in Russia.
Kenworthy came out as gay in 2015 and became an inspirational actor and spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ community at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, which manifested in a kiss with her then-boyfriend, Matthew Wilkas, which was captured and televised and became an icon of the growing acceptance of athletes and people from the community. LGBTQ+ in games and in sports.
“I have to pinch myself,” he said. “I really can’t believe the things I’ve done, the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, the opportunities that have afforded me the same success I’ve had in the sport and the Olympics and the platform they’ve given me.
“It’s a surreal feeling. I think I’m so grateful for the Olympics and for everything you’ve done for me.”
Kenworthy says that year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing will be his last and he plans to make the most of the farewell run.
“I definitely feel driven and want to do well and have a race I’ve been working on and I think it would be good if I landed,” he added.
“That’s just my goal, to run and leave it on the line, doing everything I can and have no regrets. Walk away with my head held high.”
The Olympics have played a big part in his story, and on his last visit as a competitor, he wants to experience it to the fullest.
“I’m excited to watch some more action and cheer on friends and teammates. And yes, just enjoy the moment,” he said.
Responsibility for risk
Since coming out as gay, Kenworthy has been very vocal about social injustice and the misrepresentation of minorities, not only within the LGBTQ+ community, but also about issues of race as well as mental health issues.
“I think as an athlete, you are given a platform and you have the ability to reach a lot of people,” he explains.
“Whenever that’s the case, whether you’re an athlete or any kind of public figure, it’s more important than ever to speak up for what you believe in, stand up for people who are marginalized or disenfranchised, and try to do the best you can because you have a great platform and that’s a luxury. “
China’s human rights record has drawn a lot of criticism before, and Kenworthy has not hesitated to address this.
Other prominent sports figures have criticized China’s treatment of the Uyghur community around the Games.
The US State Department has said it believes China is committing genocide against its Uyghur population. It says about two million people are held in a network of concentration camps, subjected to torture, sterilization and food deprivation.
China denies any human rights violations. She stressed that rehabilitation camps are necessary to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region.
“I have already spoken out against the fact that Beijing is even hosting,” Kenworthy said. “I think China is going to have a great Games, the village looks great, of course, the pipes and everything looks crazy, they did a great job.
“But I think it’s important to use our voices, and for me, I think it’s important to point out what I said, which is just that I think countries have to meet certain ethical standards in order to be able to participate in the Games or host the Games.”
From the slopes to the screen
Kenworthy isn’t quite sure what his life will be like after competitive skating, but he’s in no hurry to find out, even though he’s planning a warm-weather vacation.
In recent years, he has appeared in a number of television shows, starring as Chet Clancy on the cult-favorite series “American Horror Story,” as well as being a guest judge on RuPaul’s iconic “Drag Race All Stars.”
He said, “I know what I’m interested in and I want to try to pursue acting. I’ve been doing quite a bit.”
“I kind of commented on everything, I didn’t take any lessons or take the test or anything because all my focus was on the Olympics.
“But after Beijing, I definitely want to keep working in it and try to get better. Keep testing, hopefully working, book something and then I don’t know.”
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