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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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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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