Getty Images

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

1 Comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 15-year-old Olympic skiing favorite to miss PyeongChang

Noah Lyles takes next step to stardom as youngest U.S. 100m champion in 34 years

Leave a comment

Incredible, Noah Lyles.

Lyles, wearing red “The Incredibles” socks, won the U.S. 100m title in 9.88 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year, at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Des Moines on Friday night.

Lyles overtook Ronnie Baker in the final strides to win by .02 and become the youngest man to take the sprint crown since Sam Graddy in 1984. Nationals were held a week before Olympic Trials won by Carl Lewis in 1984. Essentially, Lyles is the youngest U.S. 100m champ since Lewis in 1981.

What’s more incredible is that Lyles is primarily a 200m runner, having finished fourth in that event at the 2016 Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old. Lyles is joint fastest in the world in the 200m this year and has not lost an outdoor 200m since the trials (he missed 2017 Nationals, and thus 2017 Words, with a hamstring tear).

“I wanted to prove myself as a 100m runner,” Lyles, who turned pro after Olympic Trials and skipped NCAA track, told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’ve kind of been cheatin’ on my 200m. It’s time to go back to my baby.”

NCAA champion Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 100m in 10.91 seconds, beating Ashley Henderson by .05 and Olympian Jenna Prandini by .07.

Hobbs, 22, was seventh in her senior nationals debut last year. She entered Des Moines with the four fastest times among Americans this year, ranked No. 3 in the world behind Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Cote d’Ivoire and Nigerian Blessing Okagbare-Ighotegunor.

The U.S.’ established 100m stars — world gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman and world champion Tori Bowie — are not racing at nationals. This is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world outdoor championships.

USATF Outdoors continue Saturday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (11 a.m.-6 p.m.), highlighted by 400m, 1500m and 100m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Earlier Friday, Olympic champion Christian Taylor fouled and passed out of the triple jump after three jumps, shortly after finishing fifth in his 400m semifinal to miss Saturday’s final by one spot.

Olympian Zach Ziemek became the first man other than Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee to win the U.S. decathlon title since 2010. Ziemek, who finished third, third and second the last three years, scored 8,294 points to win by 275 over Solomon Simmons.

Favorites Kendall Ellis, Courtney Okolo and Shakima Wimbley advanced to Saturday’s women’s 400m final. Olympic silver medalist Allyson Felix and 2017 World champion Phyllis Francis chose not to race the 400m in Des Moines. Eighteen-year-old pro Sydney McLaughlin, fastest in the world this year in the 400m hurdles, entered the 400m but scratched before Thursday’s first round after feeling tightness in her quad in warm-up.

World bronze medalist Ajee’ Wilson and Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy highlighted the qualifiers into Sunday’s 800m finals.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

He won a gold medal with Michael Phelps, then he lived in his car

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Klete Keller, a five-time Olympic medalist who anchored the U.S. 4x200m freestyle relay to gold (holding off Ian Thorpe) at the 2004 Athens Games, went into “a deep depression” after a 2014 divorce and said he lived in his car for almost one year, according to USA Swimming.

“I was paying child support for my kids and couldn’t afford a place, so I lived in my car for almost a year,” Keller, a 36-year-old who retired after his third Olympics in 2008, said, according to USA Swimming. “I had a Ford Fusion at the time, so at 6-foot-6, it was challenging to make the room to sleep. But I made it work.”

Keller, who has three kids, was jobless and homeless.

“He alternated parking at one of the two Wal-Marts in his area and at rest stops and kept his gym membership active so he had somewhere to shower and workout,” according to the story.

In a spring 2014 interview, Keller said he was bitter toward his swimming career and didn’t know where three of his Olympic medals were located.

“It’s not right, but I still probably hold some bitterness toward myself mostly, but also a little bit toward my sport because I let myself get too deep into it,” Keller said then. “I’m still not quite over that, unfortunately, but I’m working on it. I do love the sport. I’m just a little disappointed overall.”

The effects of leaving swimming spread through his life.

“After swimming, I thought I had to find the same title or level of success in my work — no matter what I was doing or how much I didn’t enjoy it – to feel that same success that I did in swimming,” Keller said, according to USA Swimming. “In swimming, you have to be selfish to a large degree to be successful, but when you are a husband and father, you have to be more selfless — and I wasn’t. As I look back now, I wasn’t a very good husband.”

Now, Keller is back on his feet, having moved to Colorado Springs, working in residential real estate and accruing airline miles on his credit card to fund trips to see his children, according to USA Swimming.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Kayla Harrison wins MMA debut with Ronda Rousey’s move