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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

Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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