When Gus Kenworthy won the silver medal in slopestyle skiing at the 2014 Winter Olympics, it should have been a moment of tremendous pride. But it wasn’t.
As an overnight national hero, the spotlight shined brightly on Gus, which quickly became difficult for him. At the time, the then-22-year-old was in the closet, and reporters and late night hosts would ask him questions related to his sexuality. Like who his crushes were.
“Instead of being out, having the courage to say, ‘No, I have a boyfriend,’ [I’d respond], ‘My celebrity crush is Miley Cyrus,’” Gus remembers.
He felt like a “liar,” triggering major anxiety for him, which persisted all the way through his disappointing performance at the X Games the following year.
After a heart-to-heart with his manager Michael Spencer and more discussions with his family, Gus made the courageous decision to come out to the world, gracing the October 2015 cover of ESPN The Magazine. Feeling “liberated,” he immediately received an “overwhelming” amount of support and went on to absolutely crush it at the 2016 Winter X Games, taking home two silver medals.
Now, Gus—the first openly gay action sports athlete ever—is representing the U.S. at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. While the taste of gold would be sweet, he sees the bigger picture.
“Competing in the Olympics as an out, proud gay man, and to compete for the LGBT community—that is my biggest goal right now,” the Olympian says. “[I want] to show people that nobody should be crippled by fear in the closet because it's a lot brighter on the other side.”
For more on Gus’ inspirational story, watch the video above. And be sure to check out Complex’s interactive profile on the man who’s changed the landscape of action sports forever.