Gus Kenworthy may be the world’s best freestyle skier, yet he still lacks X Games gold. Kenworthy will get two chances for a maiden title in Aspen this weekend, but they will come in a tight 15-hour stretch.
An X Games crown “would be everything, everything he’s been shooting for ever since he started this sport,” his agent said Thursday.
Kenworthy, the Olympic ski slopestyle silver medalist, is entered in both ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle at X Games for a fifth straight year. (Kenworthy has also competed in ski big air in the past, but that is not an Olympic event, and he is not doing it this year)
Last year, Kenworthy became the first man to earn Aspen X Games medals in both halfpipe and slopestyle (silvers) since Swede Jon Olsson in 2005. They were his first career medals in Aspen.
The halfpipe was Thursday. The slopestyle was Sunday. Those events have been condensed on this weekend’s schedule.
The ski halfpipe final is at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday. The ski slopestyle final is at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.
“It’s actually not that bad, because they’re back to back,” Kenworthy’s agent said Thursday. “Because he went straight into the final for slope [bypassing Thursday qualifying], he gets to focus straight on pipe for tomorrow night. We’ve had all week to train, and the training’s gone pretty well except for some issues with snow.”
Kenworthy also hopes to double at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where he should have days off between events.
“It’s really important to get to the Olympics in both disciplines,” Kenworthy, known in 2014 for adopting puppies in Sochi and in 2015 for coming out as gay, said in the fall. “If I only made it for one, I actually would rather go for pipe because I already got the experience of going for slope.”
In 2014, Kenworthy was part of a U.S. slopestyle sweep in Sochi with gold medalist Joss Christensen and bronze medalist Nick Goepper.
Some may forget that Kenworthy also nearly made the Olympic ski halfpipe team, finishing fourth in qualifying standings. The top three automatically made the Sochi team, while U.S. Ski and Snowboard had a discretionary selection for the last pick.
Kenworthy was passed over for Torin Yater-Wallace, who had won the 2013 World and X Games silver medals but missed all of Olympic qualifying after suffering a collapsed lung and two broken ribs.
Kenworthy called the decision “one of the most heartbreaking things.”
“I was really gutted, it made me feel like the coaches didn’t believe in me, so that really hurt,” said Kenworthy, who at that time had zero world or X Games halfpipe medals. “I felt like I kinda had risked my health for doing the qualifying events for both [slopestyle and halfpipe]. I achieved what I wanted to do — and the person they gave the spot to fell both of his runs [in the Olympics], so it was really upsetting.”
Yater-Wallace said he wasn’t fully recovered in time for Sochi. He and another American, Lyman Currier, finished 26th and 28th out of 28 in the first Olympic ski halfpipe won by American David Wise.
Yater-Wallace praises Kenworthy.
“The most impressive thing about Gus is the way he balances different disciplines,” Yater-Wallace said last week. “There’s few people in this day and age. In the history of freeskiing, everybody used to do it. Now that the levels are so intense in each discipline, and the tricks have such a high level, trying to compete in the halfpipe, big air and slopestyle really is a skill set that only a few can have. And to also maintain a physical and mental level of strength to do that. With such a little amount of people doing all three disciplines, event organizers never set up the practices and events to favor those people. If you’re going into Aspen X Games and you’re Gus Kenworthy, you’ve got to strategically pick which practices you’re going to skip because the other event might overlap that.”
Kenworthy puts the majority of his time into slopestyle because the fields are deeper and the courses more challenging than pipe.
“I train whenever there’s pipe training at an event, I’ll be there that whole time, and maybe in the summer I’ll ski pipe once or twice, learn a new trick to add into my run,” he said. “All my focus goes into slopestyle.”
Which makes Kenworthy’s improvement in halfpipe the last few years all the more impressive. Starting in 2012, his X Games halfpipe results have been 14th, 16th, seventh, fifth and then second last year.
“Gus always had all the tricks, but never went very, very big [in amplitude],” Wise, a three-time Aspen X Games ski halfpipe champion, said last fall. “Then, one year, he just decided that wasn’t OK anymore, and he started going big.”
NBC Olympics researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.Follow @nzaccardi