Gus Kenworthy's Victory Lap, From AHS: 1984 Back To The X Games

Gus Kenworthy's Victory Lap, From AHS: 1984 Back To The X Games

For Gus Kenworthy, the X Games feel like home.

“There’s just an energy it has even before the competitions have started. You just get really excited about it,” the freestyle skier tells MTV News. As a kid, he would travel to Aspen, Colorado, from his hometown of Telluride to watch competitions he dreamed of one day entering; bearing witness to these extreme feats — like the switch triple rodeo 1440 and other tricks that visualize competitors all nevertheless laugh in the face of gravity and velocity — gave him the same sense of excitement he feels right now. “This will be my 10th year competing, also it doesn’t get any much less exhilarating each time,” he adds.

A lot has changed for Kenworthy in that decade: He’s won more some world championships, nabbed a silver medal in Men’s Slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and came out the following year in a viral ESPN cover story. That moment paved the way for representation in the extreme-sports world — he was the opening in an industry that had never before counted an openly LGBTQ+ person among its superstars. Kenworthy was also one of the opening openly gay male athletes to resemble the United States at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Though he didn’t medal that year, he followed it up with another big moment: Landing the role of ghostly former Olympian Chet Clancy in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: 1984, which took its toll on the sort of training schedule professional athletes are used to.

Kenworthy admits he "really only skied a handful of days in the past two years,” though he added that he just got back from what he called a “incredibly frigid” trip to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “I just got back inside the half pipe for the initial time in about a year,” he says, before going through a run-down of what his normal training day looks like: Four hours of work on the slopes before hitting the fitness center for weight-lifting and also a spin session, followed by dinner, sleep, and doing it all over again the next day. It’s a taxing routine from which anyone would deserve a break every right now and again, for both their physical and mental health.

Add to that the prospect of competing for the Olympics, which comes once every four years — while his training regimen typically stays the same, the pressure is that much more intense. Kenworthy is already thinking of the 2022 games, which are slated to be contained in Beijing, China. He’s aiming to symbolize Good Britain in what the 28-year-old says will most likely be his last Olympic appearance as a competitor. The decision to switch from Team U.S.A. Is a personalized one — it’s both a tribute to his mom, who is English, and something of a homecoming, as he was place on Earth in England (Kenworthy’s family member moved to Colorado as soon as he was a toddler).

“My mom has stood there waving the stars and stripes and cheering me on, and I just wish to do the same for her,” he says.

Although before that are this year’s X Games, where he’ll be competing in ski superpipe and slopestyle. This year, the skier is focusing on getting into the zone before he steps onto the course. “There’s been several years where I felt like I could win or do well and struggled to put it with each other under the pressure,” he admits, adding that he often leans on music to assist him by way of the stress. On his amp-up playlist you’d find everything from “Sleep Deprivation” by Simian Active Disco to Billie Eilish’s smash, “You Should Visualize Me In A Crown,” to the remix of “Genius” by Sia, Diplo, and Labrinth, featuring Lil Wayne. “I’m sort of throwing it all out there and seeing what sticks,” he adds with a laugh.

The Games begin January 23 and run through January 26. They hold a special place in the skier's heart, given his legacy as one of the annual competition’s trailblazers. “The X Games are pretty inclusive, they just never really had a chance to be prior to my coming out,” he notes. “But I feel like they’ve habitually been against bullying and so they hope to be on the correct side of things.”

He points to a X Games tradition he says “was habitually a struggle” prior to his coming out. A year, producers ask athletes if a girlfriend or boyfriend is in the stands so they can broadcast their image throughout the competition. Whenever he was younger and still closeted, the moment “kind of filled me with a bit of disappointment that I was never going have the ability to have that,” he says. “It wasn’t with malice, you know what I mean? I think that they just didn’t know any better. It was heteronormative only because no one had ever damaged the mold.”

Although at the 2016 games, producers showed Kenworthy’s then-boyfriend on-screen, in keeping with the tradition they’d afforded every other athlete. “Getting to have my boyfriend and my mom standing at the bottom of the course and having a little bit thing that came up and mentioned his name and that he was my boyfriend was a really overjoyed moment for me,” he says. “He’s right now my ex-boyfriend, nevertheless that was still a big, monumental thing. Just to be able to see that on ESPN on primetime broadcast — seeing a gay athlete competing and having their significant other recognized I just think is sweet.” It didn’t hurt that Kenworthy earned silver and bronze medals that year.

Being true to himself is a core tenet of Kenworthy’s beliefs, especially given his position as a sports star and that he often  appears on stages big because the X Games. “I think it’s most crucial to use your platform as athletes and entertainers, as someone in the public eye to try and help create change,” he says. “Politics play into almost every thing that we do as humans, and to think otherwise is ignorant as well as sort of neglectful, in my advice. It’s most crucial that people have strong and wise opinions.”

The question isn’t whether sports are political — they routinely have been. And while detractors have often tried to silence athletes, and particularly those from marginalized communities, their attempts at suppression have often proved ineffective in the long run. Kenworthy is among the sports stars standing their ground.  “I find nothing more frustrating than people saying ‘shut up and dribble’ or whichever, as if, just because we’re athletes, we shouldn’t be entitled to voicing our concerns or opinions,” he says. “If anything, we have more reason to speak up because there’s more people listening and more people affected by our words. And also you need to use that for good.”

For his part, he’s putting his body where his mouth is, by biking 545 miles from San Francisco, California, to Los Angeles later this year with AIDS/LifeCycle, his second time making the trip. Last year, he raised $250,000 in a task to raise cash to fight HIV and AIDS, a feat he hopes to replicate. And he plans to chronicle the highs and lows of that ride, along with because the X Games, the Olympics, and everything in between on social media, where he’s amassed over 1.2 million followers on Instagram alone. That’s a platform and a crowd whose significance he doesn’t take for granted — though he’d advise taking it with a grain of salt.

“Social media can just be being a highlight reel,” Kenworthy says. “Sometimes it’s key to acknowledge the disappointments and the letdowns,” including auditions he didn’t land and tough practices. In between, there’s plenty of time to repost memes, upload pictures from his travels, and, certainly, return to the sport where it all started.

“Any time I go skiing, I have no doubt in my mind about how good or strong or capable I am,” he says. “I have that confidence because of years and years and years of competing and many failure and some success.”

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