The Famous American Skier Who Changed Sides for One Last Shot at Gold

GQ: You switched to competing for the U.K. this Olympics. I’m curious what the lead-up to that decision was like. What kinds of conversations were you having? Was it an easy choice to make?
Gus Kenworthy: It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I had the first discussion about it prior to the 2014 Olympics. I had never really had crazy Olympic aspirations, because it just wasn’t on the table. And then when it was announced that ski slopestyle and half-pipe were going to be included, that’s what my focus switched to.

I have dual citizenship. I was born in G.B., and there was definitely a conversation around it, based purely on the fact that there’s a little bit of strategy. It’s the same criteria to qualify for any country, and you have to hit certain milestones. But if you’re in a country that’s really, really stacked in a specific sport, it’s much more competitive.

I was like, I feel like I am American. I live in the States. After weighing it, I thought it was still the right decision to go for the U.S. It was announced that I was on the team for slopestyle and half-pipe. Then, just before the games, they took my half-pipe spot from me and gave it to another skier, Torin Yater-Wallace, and said that it was the coach’s discretion. I didn’t really realize that they could just do that, but that was something that I kind of have never gotten over.

It’s the Olympics, and I worked very hard for all those years, and then worked really hard during that qualifying process and earned the spot and had the two podiums and did everything that I was supposedly needing to do. And was one of the top four guys in the U.S. And then the spot just got taken from me anyway. So that really upset me. And I like Torin, and he’s a friend. It also was difficult because I wanted him to go to the games too, and I was happy for him, but it was really sad for me.

Then, in 2018, trying to go through the exact same process again, I just was kind of falling apart. My body was getting wrecked trying to do both disciplines, and I was the only guy that was trying to do both. The events that we’re counting for the U.S. qualifying are U.S. events. So they make the schedule for it, they control it. It felt like there was no help coming toward me, because they would schedule one competition during the training for the other competition. So by doing both disciplines, I was forced to miss a bunch of the practice sessions. It just felt like I was sort of overlooked in it, and it made it more difficult for me. I ended up getting totally beaten up during the process and limping away from every event, because I was just hurt.

I thought I was going to be done after 2018 and basically took a year off of competing. When I was thinking about it again, I was like, you know what, I still think there’s more in the tank. I still think I want to do this, but I want to approach it differently. If I did it for Great Britain, I could have this beautiful thing for my mom. She’s been my number one fan, and she’s stood by me this whole time, and I think that she would be really appreciative of it and excited about it. And it also will allow me to qualify and not be in this position where two months before the games, I’m scrambling to earn my spot against a bunch of the other best guys in the world. And I could bring more interest, hopefully to Great Britain for the sport that they’re not really known for, and bring more funding to the British team. Hopefully, it creates a trickle-down effect where it just helps build the sport up in the U.K.

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