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Gus Kenworthy, chasing first gold, recalls trembling when he came out

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PARK CITY, Utah — Asked if he has a motto, Gus Kenworthy wrote, “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.”

It’s the morning of Oct. 22, 2015. Kenworthy, the 2014 Olympic ski slopestyle silver medalist, is at the house of two friends after a sleepless night.

He’s trembling.

“I went to post what I had written, post the link to the article and post the photo saying that I was gay,” he recalled Monday. “I was so scared.”

Kenworthy, a London-born, Colorado-raised 25-year-old, knew as far back as age 5 that he was gay.

When he decided to come out a year and a half after the Sochi Olympics, Kenworthy did an interview and a photo shoot. It would be another month before publication.

The longer you wait, the harder it gets.

“There’s no going back now,” Kenworthy thought during those four weeks. “I couldn’t be, like, actually, you know what, I’m not quite ready yet. I’m scared.”

Before the world knew, Kenworthy told his family, best friends and his agent. He built up the worst-case scenario. If everybody else left him — sponsors, fans, fellow skiers — he knew he could count on that close support group.

So on the morning of Oct. 22, 2015, Kenworthy was at the home of two close friends as his news aired on ESPN and ran online. His brother and sister-in-law came over for breakfast, too.

He posted. Then, he cried.

“Instant relief,” he said. “All this weight off my shoulders.”

Such overwhelming support that Kenworthy could not unlock his phone because of the stream of notifications.

“I still get messages every day, like I wanted to say how much your article meant to me. It helped me come out,” Kenworthy said. “It’s the one thing I’m most proud of.”

Now, Kenworthy is one of the marquee names going into the PyeongChang Winter Games.

He picked up zero Olympic sponsors leading up to Sochi. In the last eight days alone, he announced deals with Visa and Ralph Lauren.

Kenworthy, even though he is arguably the world’s best freeskier, acknowledges coming out helped with that.

“I am more marketable now as an out athlete,” he said. “Every brand is looking for diversity. It’s more important for brands to have diversity than it ever has been in the past.

“Since coming out, I’m definitely, like, the gay skier now. I knew I was stepping into that role when I did it. It’s like, in some ways I don’t really care if that’s the label that sticks because I very much am the gay skier.”

Kenworthy is comfortable in the spotlight.

He has been quoted calling Anderson Cooper “a father figure” after appearing on his New Year’s Eve special. His dream is to host “Saturday Night Live.” He said he made out with Miley Cyrus one month after Sochi.

Last Saturday night, the kid who grew up in a small Colorado ski town was a co-host at the Global Citizen Festival. The concert draws more than 50,000 people annually to New York City’s Central Park.

Other presenters included Hugh JackmanDemi Lovato and Lupita Nyong’o.

“Walking up the side of the stage, looking up and seeing the New York skyline behind the park,” remembered Kenworthy, who now splits time between Brooklyn and Colorado. “I’m from a town of 2,000 people. My high school class had 48 kids in it. So, I had never seen people like that. … That’s the impact, in part, the Olympics has, because I never would have been there without it.”

Kenworthy has been a world-class freeskier for six years. He’s the only man with podium credentials in halfpipe and slopestyle.

As far as gold goes, the wait has been long. Kenworthy earned silver medals at the Olympics, world championships and X Games Aspen, but never a title.

“I have the LGBT audience watching me, and I want to do right by them,” Kenworthy said. “There’s all these people I want to do right by, including myself. I think it puts a little pressure on, but it’s good pressure. … It’s a motivator.”

When Kenworthy came out in 2015, he was mounting a comeback from a reported torn MCL and meniscus and surgery to repair a broken femur. And from contemplating retirement after missing the halfpipe and slopestyle podiums at the 2015 X Games. (Kenworthy also thought about giving up skiing after his best friend died in a ski accident when he was 14 years old.)

After coming out, Kenworthy won his first contest, reportedly on his ninth day on snow post-surgery. A month later, Kenworthy captured his first X Games Aspen medals, silvers in halfpipe and slopestyle.

That was big.

X Games meant so much to Kenworthy that, before he came out, he threw up on the chair lift at the event, Olympic teammate Bobby Brown told ESPN.com.

“I had a long time where I would qualify first or second at X Games, always, and then fall every run in the finals,” Kenworthy said. “The pressure got to me. I couldn’t handle it. I don’t know if it’s because I was in the closet that I couldn’t compete, but I think it was something that was ever-present in my mind. It was always distracting.”

This past January, Kenworthy tumbled to 10th in both halfpipe and slopestyle at X Games.

He rebounded for slopestyle silver at worlds, but the Olympic favorites now appear to be Aaron Blunck in halfpipe and McRae Williams in slopestyle.

“It wasn’t a bad season by any means, but I think I struggled more than past seasons,” Kenworthy told NBC Olympic Research in May. “It was a little bit of a tough pill to swallow, but I think I ended on a strong note, feel pretty good about my skiing at the moment.”

Kenworthy hoped to make the Sochi Olympic team in halfpipe and slopestyle but was passed over in the former for the last of four U.S. spots.

He’s trying again this winter. If he could choose one over the other, it would be halfpipe.

“If and when I make the team I will be very much freed up to enjoy it,” Kenworthy said, “more so than I was in the past.”

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Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson makes another Olympics

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Jamie Anderson will be headed to the 2018 Olympics to defend her gold medal, and she’s hoping to bring some big tricks with her.

By finishing in second place, best among U.S. slopestyle riders, at Dew Tour Breckenridge, Anderson has confirmed her nomination to the U.S. Olympic snowboard team for both slopestyle and big air.

The Breckenridge event served as the third of five selection events for the slopestyle and big air team.

On her second and third runs, Anderson attempted to up the ante by adding a cab double underflip — one of the most progressive tricks in women’s slopestyle snowboarding right now.

She washed out on both attempts but was able to finish on the podium based on the strength of her first run.

The cab double underflip is a new trick for Anderson this season. She learned it earlier this year and then landed it in a contest for the first time back in August.

It’s also a trick that U.S. teammate Julia Marino and Austria’s Anna Gasser had dialed in last season when they beat Anderson at several contests.

“When I was asked about double corks three years ago, I think I said there was no way in hell I ever want to do double corks,” Anderson said. “And then, with a lot of the other girls slowly getting their double corks together, I started to shift my mindset and realize that we also are capable of doing these tricks.”

MORE: Breckenridge women’s slopestyle results

So far, she’s only landed the trick a handful of times. And in the process of learning it, she’s endured some rough crashes that have upped the fear factor of the trick for her.

“I still feel pretty not-that-comfortable going upside-down twice, but it’s fun and it’s starting to click a little bit more,” she said.

Defending her slopestyle gold medal in PyeongChang will be no easy task for Anderson.

Gasser has been dominant over the last year thanks in part to her mastery of the cab double underflip, and Canada’s Spencer O’Brien has put her name in the mix as well after taking the victory in Breckenridge.

Anderson will also have a chance to compete in big air in PyeongChang, though her strongest results have historically come in slopestyle.

Hailey Langland (fourth place) and Marino (sixth place) finished second and third among Americans in Breckenridge.

Both will be expected to secure spots on the team at one of the next two selection events. A fourth spot on the team could be awarded at the discretion of the coaches.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Big Air/Slopestyle 
(through three of five events)
1. Red Gerard — 1,400*
2. Chris Corning — 1,200*
3. Chandler Hunt — 1,160*
4. Kyle Mack — 1,000*
5. Judd Henkes — 1000

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,600*
2. Hailey Langland — 1,600*
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,050
5. Ty Walker — 1,000
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

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Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.

Lindsey Vonn wins 78th World Cup race (video)

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Lindsey Vonn‘s latest comeback victory, one that reinvigorated her Olympic medal hopes, came at the venue where her Olympic bid died four years ago.

Vonn overcame early season back and knee troubles to win her 78th World Cup race — and first in nearly 11 months — a super-G in Val d’Isere, France on Saturday. NBCSN will air coverage at 5 p.m. ET.

“I guess I’m not a washed-up old hag,” Vonn said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I think I proved myself, and karma definitely comes back around. I’ve got some good karma coming my way.”

She prevailed by .31 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia and .39 over Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel. Vonn has won World Cups here six times before, earning cows as prizes.

Vonn put in a scare, nearly skiing out at the bottom of the course, but let out her usual victory screams in the finish area and grabbed a TV camera, repeating, “Yes!”

Full Results

Vonn is now eight victories shy of the record she covets — retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s 86 career World Cup wins. She has said she hopes to break the record by the end of next season, after which she may retire.

First, her Olympic return in PyeongChang, four years after missing Sochi. The final straw came at this French resort in December 2013, where Vonn skied out with MCL and joint damage on top of a previous ACL tear.

Vonn’s PyeongChang medal hopes rode a roller coaster the last year.

A broken arm in a Nov. 10, 2016 crash. A win in her second race back in January, plus podiums at the world championships and at the Olympic venue in February and March.

Then a crash and a fall in two of her first three speed races this season. And last Saturday’s back injury and the images of being helped to walk with supporting poles in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

She withdrew from Sunday’s race — which was eventually canceled due to weather — flew to Austria and received therapy.

“It was mentally challenging to overcome that and be able to trust myself and push myself, even though I’m maybe not moving as well as I normally do,” Vonn said, adding that her back loosened up Saturday after the first few gates. “That’s been the biggest thing the last few weeks is just keep going, keep fighting, keep trying, keep picking yourself back up.

“I knew that the results would come eventually, but the important thing was just to continue to be tough.”

Vonn’s dad was waiting for her in his first visit to Val d’Isere.

“It was really cute when he was crying in the finish,” she said.

There was reason to doubt Vonn at age 33, given her extensive injury history. Only one woman has won a World Cup race at a more advanced age — Austrian Elisabeth Goergl in 2014.

Now, she has two months to stay healthy before the Olympic speed races, where she is a medal favorite in the downhill and super-G.

“I’m back on track,” she said. “[This win] proves what I already knew, that my skiing is good.”

First up is another World Cup super-G in Val d’Isere on Sunday (4:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

World Cup overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin is skipping this weekend’s races to prepare for upcoming slaloms and giant slaloms.

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Val d’Isere Super-G
1. Lindsey Vonn (USA) — 1:04.86
2. Sofia Goggia (ITA) — +.31
3. Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR) — +.39
8. Laurenne Ross (USA) — +.97
22. Alice McKennis (USA) — +1.62
24. Alice Merryweather (USA) — +2.03
34. Stacey Cook (USA) — +2.63
38. Breezy Johnson (USA) — +2.86
45. Julia Mancuso (USA) — +5.56
DNF. Jackie Wiles (USA)