Liv­ing au­then­ti­cally

Top- ranked slopestyle skier Kenworthy is his sport’s first openly gay ath­lete

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ja­son Blevins

aspen » It’s not that dif­fer­ent, switch­ing be­tween the jumps of a slopestyle course and the steep walls of a half­pipe, says Gus Kenworthy, Colorado’s triple- threat freeskier who will com­pete in three events this week at Aspen’s X Games. “Once you have the feel for it, the tricks are the same,” the 24- year- old Olympian said Wed­nes­day. “It’s about chang­ing your per­spec­tive and ad­just­ing to tran­si­tions.”

A dec­o­rated freeskier, Kenworthy an­nounced a ma­jor tran­si­tion last fall. He came out as gay, ce­ment­ing his po­si­tion as a freeski­ing pi­o­neer both on and off the snow.

Af­ter be­ing in­se­cure and “hid­ing for a su­per- long time,” Kenworthy hoped that com­ing out would lift a weight off his shoul­ders. It ap­pears so, as he is ski­ing bet­ter than ever and em­braces his new role as his sport’s first openly gay pro­fes­sional.

Re­veal­ing his true self has lib­er­ated theworld’s top- ranked slopestyle skier.

“It’s been a re­ally great ex­pe­ri­ence,” Kenworthy said from the base of But­ter­milk Moun­tain. “It’s been nice to live au­then­ti­cally and not have to worry about it.”

Kenworthy, who won sil­ver in Rus­sia’s burly Olympic slopestyle course in 2014 but made big­ger head­lines when he res­cued a lit­ter of stray pups fromthe moun­tain vil­lage of Kras­naya Polyana, brought his new boyfriend, a New York ac­tor, to Aspen for his firstever X Games.

“Iwas telling him to­day I don’t think I’ve ever been hap­pier at X,” said Ken--

wor­thy, who grew up in Tel­luride but has just one medal ( bronze) in five trips to the Aspen X Games.

For the high- fly­ing skier with four over­all world ti­tles since 2011, he is cer­tainly soar­ing as he en­ter­sWin­ter X Games fray, ski­ing half­pipe fi­nals Thurs­day, big air Satur­day and slopestyle Sun­day.

Ken­wor­thy­won the Dew­Tour slopestyle con­test in Breck­en­ridge in De­cem­ber. He took the half­pipe ti­tle at last week’s Mam­moth Grand Prix.

Af­ter ma­jor knee surgery last sea­son, Kenworthy spent just eight days on snow be­fore head­ing into the Dew­Tour at Breck­en­ridge in De­cem­ber, the first event of the freeski­ing sea­son.

He took his se­cond con­sec­u­tive Breck­en­ridge slopestyle gold with dou­ble- cork spins in all di­rec­tions and tech­ni­cal tricks on the rails. His 10- month re­cov­ery from knee surgery was a non­is­sue.

He didn’t push his re­turn to snow, but he didn’t dally ei­ther.

“I waited 10 months, and then my first day back I was do­ing the tricks I was do­ing when I got hurt,” he said. “It didn’t re­ally bother me. It feels great.”

His peace of mind will be tested this week in Aspen, where theworld’s top skiers and snow­board­ers are gath­er­ing for the 20th X Games. For the first time at X Games, there won’t be qual­i­fy­ing con­tests for rid­ers in the half­pipe and slopestyle com­pe­ti­tions — mean­ing there won’t be any chance to ease into the high­est- pro­file event of the sea­son.

Kenworthy counts the prac­tice ses­sions — such as Wed­nes­day night un­der the lights in the 22- foot But­ter­milk half­pipe where he­was boost­ing higher than any other skiers on his fi­nal hit — as his train­ing. He’s a slopestyle skier renowned for his smooth tricks, which in­clude ro­tat­ing twice ( dou­ble cork) while spin­ning as many as 3 ½ times ( a 1260) in all four di­rec­tions, ( switch and for­ward, both left and right.)

Michael Spencer, Kenworthy’s long­time agent, said his friend “is look­ing at things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently.”

“That’s only nat­u­ral,” Spencer said. “But there are also some new­pres­sures he hasn’t ex­pe­ri­enced.”

Kenworthy said he gets a lot of notes and let­ters from­fans, es­pe­cially peo­ple­who are strug­gling with their iden­tity and re­veal­ing their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

He has more than just skiers watch­ing him, said De­bra Pol­lock, the head of the GLBT Com­mu­nity Cen­ter of Colorado.

“He’s pro­vid­ing in­spi­ra­tion and courage to youth who are in the same po­si­tion and who don’t feel they can be their­w­hole self,” said Pol­lock, who has in­vit­edKen­wor­thy to serve as grand mar­shal for the group’s mas­sive Den­ver PrideFest pa­rade in June. “When you can bring your whole self to work or­what­ever your pas­sion, you are go­ing to go bet­ter and that’swhat’s hap­pen­ing to Gus. He’s def­i­nitely blown open a door.”

Kenworthy, who lives in Den­ver’s Five Points neigh­bor­hood, wel­comes his new role as an in­spi­ra­tion to peo­ple be­yond the world of ski­ing.

“I def­i­nitely feel like there are more eyes on me … but I don’t think it has put more pres­sure onme, be­cause I think those peo­ple are sup­port­ive of me thor­oughly. So whether or not I do well, they don’t re­ally care. I think that’s a good pres­sure any­way. It’s the pres­sure that helps you,” he said. “That’s very dif­fer­ent from the pres­sure you put on your­self.”

He said he was ner­vous af­ter mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, wor­ried about what it would do to spon­sor­ship deals ( he hasn’t lost any) and his re­la­tion­ships with the other rid­ers and judges.

Ev­ery­one has been “su­per sup­port­ive,” Kenworthy said of his fel­low­com­peti­tors, a testos­terone- laden lot.

“I’ll hear some­one say, ‘ Oh, man, that’s so gay’ and then be like, ‘ Oh, no. It­wasn’t.’ And I’ll say: ‘ It’s all good. Thanks for catch­ing your­self,’ ” Kenworthy said. “At least they are try­ing.”

“He’s pro­vid­ing in­spi­ra­tion and courage to youth­who are in the same po­si­tion and­who don’t feel they can be their­w­hole self. … He’s def­i­nitely blown open a door. ” De­bra Pol­lock, head of the GLBT Com­mu­nity Cen­ter of Colorado

Brent Lewis, The Den­ver Post

Gus Kenworthy catches some air dur­ing a prac­tice runWed­nes­day night at But­ter­milkMoun­tain in prepa­ra­tion for the X Games.

Gus Kenworthy, an­swer­ing a ques­tionWed­nes­day dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, brought his new boyfriend to Aspen for the X Games. Brent Lewis, The Den­ver Post

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