Gus Kenworthy won a silver medal at the 2014 Olympics in slopestyle skiing, a sport that was making its debut in Sochi. Now 26, the slopestyle and halfpipe skier is coming off a second-place finish in the halfpipe at a World Cup event in Mammoth Lakes, California. He spoke with SI Kids about his craziest move, the puppies he adopted from Russia, his plans for the 2018 Olympics, and just being himself.
Now with freestyle skiing making it to the Olympics, to what extent do you think that skiing is making a comeback with the cool factor?
I don’t think it’s really making a comeback. It didn’t really go anywhere. If anything, it is just getting more popular. I don’t think it was ever not popular. It’s gaining momentum, growing a fan base, and gaining participation.
Can you talk a little bit about the skiing culture in America compared to back in England?
I was born in England, but there’s basically no skiing culture in England. There are a few dry slopes, and people are excited about it. Definitely in countries like France and Switzerland there is more attention around it with downhill racing. There are so many people who focus on that because it is more popular. Skiing is young, trendy, and has a really cool image. It is more United States–focused, but it has grown in Europe.
Describe your hardest, coolest-looking move.
One of my hardest moves is the Switch Triple Rodeo 1440. The switch fact is that you take off backwards. You come in backwards, flip three times, and the Rodeo determines that rotation. It is upside down, but it’s not straight flips. It’s an off-axis flip, and 1440 is the degrees of rotation. The full move is going backwards, flipping three times, spinning four times, and landing backwards again.
You spoke with SI Kids a couple years ago about the stray Russian dogs you adopted after the Sochi Olympics. How are Mishka and Jake doing?
They’re doing well! They live with my ex. They lived with me for the first year-and-a-half they were in the United States. They lived with me in Denver, and then they moved with my ex after we broke up. He offers them more stability. They are awesome dogs, and their mom lives with my mom. I see her when I go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
A lot of kids who are gay are afraid to tell their friends because they don’t want to be seen as different. What advice do you have for those kids?
I think it is definitely a very personal journey. I don’t think it’s fair to push someone else or tell anyone else to do it. For me it has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, just taking the time to acknowledge who I am and what I have done. Being able to open up and show that part of me, I don’t feel like I am hiding anything anymore. I am living authentically and without fear. I think I was miserable because I was scared of someone finding out my secret. I was scared to let people know, but it became more painful to lie about it. I decided to let everyone in. I didn’t know how people were going to react. I think that’s the fear of everyone in the closet. I think that the most important thing is anyone who truly loves you will not care, and the people who do care are people you don’t need in your life. As hard as that may be, it’s better to cut those people out.
Kids might go skiing with their parents, but the type of skiing you do is not exactly what you learn at ski school. How did you get into your sport?
I got into it based on living in a small ski town in Colorado. I think I was pretty fortunate with my older brothers skiing. My mom learned at pretty much the same time too. Our school had a ski program where we went skiing in the afternoon two days a week. I competed in high school as part of an elite athlete program. I was lucky I had so much access. But mostly, my dad and my brothers going skiing is what got me into it.
We’re about a year away from the 2018 Olympics. What are your plans?
My plan is to hopefully go. I’m nervous. The United States is one of the strongest countries in the sport, and the maximum is four people. I am competing against 10 guys who at are a really top level for four spots. I think I am in a good place right now with my skiing, but it’s easier said than done. I’m hoping to go for both halfpipe and slopestyle.
Photographs by (from top): Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images; Maddie Meyer/Getty Images for the USOC