Skier Gus Kenworthy returns to the Winter Olympics, this time as the 2nd openly gay athlete for the US team
Gus Kenworthy came out after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
— -- For as long as he can remember, Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy hauled around with him something far weightier than poles and skis: a secret he kept even from the people he loved most.
When he took the chairlift up to the top of the Slopestyle event at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014, it was there, he told ABC News. And it was there when he landed from his dazzling series of twists, flips and backward flops -- now an Olympic silver medal winner.
After returning from the 2014 Games, Kenworthy took a year or so, and finally came out to his parents, family and close friends. And, in 2015, he told the world his story, appearing on the cover of ESPN the Magazine.
"It was an enormous relief," he said. "With every person I told, I felt like a massive weight off of my shoulders. ... I just kind of decided that even though it was scary to come out. ... It was painful being in the closet and I didn't want to be anymore."
Before 2014, however, Kenworthy told ABC News, and even as a child, he'd considered his being gay a "shortcoming."
His was a testosterone- and energy-fueled sport in which the men casually threw around pejoratives like "fag" and "gay." Burying his secret, he said he became driven. Excelling in school and every activity, from soccer and hockey to musical theater, and of course in skiing.
"I was working like double time to try and succeed in everything I did," he said in an interview.
These days, Kenworthy said, that same work ethic resides in him but there is a different driving force.
"I'm not kind of pushing myself because I feel like I have to make up for something. I'm pushing myself to continue to prove myself. ... I'm representing the LGBT community and I want to do well for them," said the 26-year-old Colorado resident. "I also am no longer ashamed of myself. I'm not hiding myself. I'm able to just be myself but still know how to focus."
Kenworthy will be the second openly gay athlete for the U.S. team competing in the Winter Games. He officially made the U.S. team Sunday.
In 2014, during his first Olympic appearance, Kenworthy was a ball of nerves and not just because he was set to compete. He had brought his boyfriend at the time to Sochi, Russia, with him and no one knew about the two, not even Kenworthy's best friend and roommate.
He and his boyfriend were also considering coming out while there in what he called a "grand gesture," kissing at the end of one of his ski runs. When the Olympics ended, though, Kenworthy had won the silver medal in slope-style skiing but the kiss had not happened and Kenworthy had not come out.
"It wasn't the time. I hadn't told my mom I was gay. I hadn't told my dad, my brothers," Kenworthy said. "It would've been a shock to the world but it would've been a shock to my family."
Yet, Kenworthy, who said he had become accustomed to compartmentalizing the different aspects of his life, felt the time to share his news quickly approaching.
"I realized that like waiting for that day is just showing that I'm so ashamed of myself and like such a coward and so afraid to come out and like so afraid of rejection -- and I didn't want that to be the case," he said. "I wanted to kind of come out and hopefully be a beacon of light for any kids that were the same as me when I was a kid."
When he did share the news with his mother, Pip Kenworthy, she was not surprised, she told ABC News. Pip Kenworthy said she'd always known but feared upsetting him by asking.
"I just waited," she said. "Now, I regret it a little bit because I know he had an intense struggle. ... I didn't realize at the time because he's always, you know, popular and he's, you know, successful."
Pip Kenworthy said the two were in Denver, Colorado, while Gus Kenworthy healed from a broken leg, when he shared his news with her.
"We cried and I told him that, you know, that anybody that would dislike somebody for their sexual preferences is not worth worrying about, that we loved him. ... We couldn't be prouder of him," she said.
Gus Kenworthy told ABC News that "overwhelmingly" the response from friends as well as sponsors had been positive and supportive.
"All the sponsors that I had have stuck with me and since then, I've gained like a slew of new sponsors like Procter and Gamble. ... They want to partner with me and also like amplify the fact that I'm a gay athlete and sort of show diversity and show that it's amazing to be yourself and unique," he said.
In 2017, he was profiled, along with 22 other athletes, in ESPN the Magazine's annual Body Issue. He was also named recently brand ambassador for Procter and Gamble's Head and Shoulders products.
Gus Kenworthy said he hopes his story encourages others to come out.
"I think that the more people that come out, the more visibility we have [and] the more people we have representation-wise," he said. "The less shocking it will be when people come out and the less newsworthy it will be."