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Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy comes out, says time wasn’t right at Sochi Olympics

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DENVER (AP) — When Gus Kenworthy would let his mind wander into how his perfect Olympics might play out, he pictured a certain scene.

He’d land his best tricks on his final run, win a medal and then — the capper — jump into the stands, ski boots and all, to share a big hug and kiss with the man who meant so much to him.

“That would’ve been an amazing way to come out,” said Kenworthy, the freestyle skier who won the silver medal in Sochi.

But the timing, to say nothing of the country, wasn’t quite right to tell the world he was gay. And so Kenworthy left Russia in February 2014 known best as the compassionate daredevil who adopted several stray dogs he came across in the mountains — and as the man who was part of an historic U.S. sweep of the first Olympic ski slopestyle contest.

Because he wasn’t ready, the journey to Sochi was far less perfect than it could’ve been for the 24-year-old from Telluride, Colorado, who on Thursday, in interviews with The Associated Press and ESPN The Magazine, revealed to the public that he is gay.

He joined other high-profile athletes, including football player Michael Sam, recently retired NBA player Jason Collins and Los Angeles Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers, to come out.

MORE: U.S. silver medalist figure skater Adam Rippon comes out

“I felt like I was already being so courageous with my body and my actions and the things I was doing in order to try to win and be the best,” Kenworthy said at his home in Denver. “Then, I was being such a coward in this other way, where I wouldn’t let anyone know. So they were battling each other. I’m excited where those two things can go hand in hand.”

As young as age 5, Kenworthy felt he was different. Growing up in a mountain town with about 2,000 residents and only 50 kids in the school gives a boy who knows he’s gay few places to hide. He threw himself into skiing to show he was every bit as tough and brave as anyone else.

But there was no denying he felt conflicted. He spoke of severe depression, thoughts of suicide, the internal battle of how to “live authentically and not feel like I need to hide anymore.”

Heading into the biggest ski contest of his life, he wasn’t all the way there. He hadn’t told his parents, or his brothers. And though he had let himself get caught up in the idea of a celebratory kiss with his boyfriend at the bottom of the hill, and the many messages it would send, he knew it couldn’t happen.

“The idea of kissing my boyfriend at the bottom of my run would’ve been, in addition to me coming out, a silent f— you to the anti-gay legislature in place in Russia,” he said.

MORE: Skiing, snowboard community reacts to Gus Kenworthy

Instead, his post-victory tour involved him being portrayed as the pet-loving heartthrob who brought Olympic glory to his home country. Typical of winning athletes who go on their post-Olympic interview tours, he faced questions about much more than just skiing.

Who is your celebrity crush? Miley Cyrus, Kenworthy lied.

How do you feel about saving all those dogs? He couldn’t tell the real story and so he lied again: Couldn’t be happier.

Truth was, he was nothing more than a casual fan of Cyrus, and the person who did most of the hard work with the dogs — including staying behind in Russia for more than a month to get them back to the United States — was his boyfriend at the time.

“He got zero credit and I was getting asked about it on every show and in every interview,” Kenworthy said.

Much as the label “Dog Guy” stuck with him long after Sochi, Kenworthy is aware he could be cast, too simply, as the “Gay Skier.”

But in the 20 months since his trip to Russia, where debate raged over gay rights and the government’s law against gay “propaganda,” Kenworthy has become more assured about who he is, both on and off the slopes. He has won a title on the Dew Tour, more World Cup podiums and had a legitimate chance at the overall championship last season until a leg and knee injury ended things early.

Relegated to the gym for months of rehab, he finally had the time to crystalize his feelings about whether he was ready to tell the world who he really is.

He said he likes the idea of coming out while he’s at the top of his game, while people in his sport — especially kids — are paying attention.

“We admire Gus for having the strength to tell the world who he is as a person, and paving the way for others to do the same,” said Tiger Shaw, the CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

While the locker-room atmosphere of football or basketball doesn’t exist in freestyle skiing, it is still a sport built on a certain brand of devil-may-care machismo. How will a gay skier be received among this cadre of daredevils?

For a man who makes a living catapulting off of 70-foot-high ramps, this is a very different sort of leap.

“I don’t know what the future has in store,” Kenworthy said, “but I’m kind of looking forward to it.”

MORE FREESTYLE SKIING: Gus Kenworthy trying to save group of Sochi stray puppies

I am gay.Wow, it feels good to write those words. For most of my life, I’ve been afraid to embrace that truth about…

Posted by Gus Kenworthy on Thursday, October 22, 2015

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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