Being able to say you’re the first to accomplish something is pretty special. U.S. Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy can claim he’s been the first twice. Recognized as the first openly gay action sports athlete, Gus—along with figure skater Adam Rippon—is also the first openly gay athlete to represent his country in the Winter Olympics, which he’s currently doing in Pyeongchang.
“Competing in the Olympics as an out, proud gay man, and competing for the LGBT community—is my biggest goal right now,” the 26-year-old says.
Gus took home a silver medal in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, but was a different man then. Rather, he was still Gus Kenworthy, but he had not yet revealed his deepest secret—and by extension, truest self—to the world.
“I was really scared for anybody to find out [I was gay],” he recalls. “I didn't know what it would mean for my position in the industry, and I just didn't really know what it meant in general.”
It’s a fear that Gus carried with him growing up, and one that often paralyzed him. He tried to compartmentalize the different aspects of his life—skiing, school, and issues related to identity—but it became impossible when he gained overnight fame for his successes in Sochi. The spotlight affected him so much, that it destroyed his secret relationship his boyfriend and resulted in a disappointing following season.
“We were in Gus' car, and he was crying, and saying he was going to quit,” Gus’ agent Michael Spencer recalls. “For the first time through all the years I had known him, I actually was kind of nervous for Gus.”
After a heart-to-heart with Michael, whom Gus has referred to as a “confidant” and “second father” (Michael was actually the first person Gus came out to), Gus set two goals for himself: capture the No. 1 ranking in the world and come out by the end of the year. He accomplished both in 2015, the latter of which he did in the October issue of ESPN The Magazine. It gave Gus a new lease on life.
“I've just felt so free and liberated [since coming out],” Gus beams.
Heading into Pyeongchang, Gus wanted to participate in the slopestyle and halfpipe events—a rarity, since most skiers typically develop a mastery over one discipline. However, he wiped out in his halfpipe qualifier, crushing that dream and threatening to dash his Olympic hopes.
The wounded silver medalist would need to put together a slopestyle run of his life the very next day for a chance to compete in Pyeongchang at all. As he’s done time and time again, Gus rose to the challenge and earned his spot, exhibiting why he’s one of the best in the world at what he does.
With Gus now representing the American and pride flags in Pyeongchang, he's looking to check off another first: become the first openly gay Olympian to win gold.
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.