Gus Kenworthy made the headlines at PyeongChang 2018 not for a medal, or a nasty fall, but for a peck on the lips with his boyfriend — and he couldn’t be happier.
Broadcast live to the world and then shared on social media, Kenworthy’s kiss with boyfriend Matthew Wilkas has become a sensation, being hailed as a celebration of LGBTQ pride.
The US skier says the overwhelming positive reaction he’s received has compensated for a disappointing performance in the slopestyle final.
“This was actually the Olympic experience I was hoping for,” Kenworthy told CNN’s Will Ripley. “I’m leaving here more fulfilled without a medal than I did at the last games with one.
Kenworthy claimed silver in slopestyle at Sochi in 2014, but then he wasn’t openly gay.
He came out the following year in 2015, and has since become a gay sporting icon. He was awarded a Visibility Award by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group, in 2017.
At PyeongChang, Kenworthy competed with a broken thumb and a hematoma — severe bruising — on his hip.
He finished 12th in the slopestyle, with Norway’s Oystein Braaten taking gold, US teammate Nick Goepper claiming silver and Canada’s Alex Beaulieu-Marchand winning bronze.
But Kenworthy isn’t viewing his Olympic experience just from a sporting perspective.
“This Olympics I’m out, I’m me. I’m out the closet, I get to experience this as myself,” he explains.
The couple had no idea the kiss was being caught on camera, but when Kenworthy finished the event it was all the media were talking about.
“It’s so crazy it’s turned into such a thing,” he says.
“It’s cool, something that seems so nominal and so flippant in the moment actually had a really big impact,” he says.
Kenworthy lacked any gay sporting role models when he was a kid. There was “no one that was out and successful, someone I could look up to and emulate,” he says.
Now there are two openly gay athletes competing in the Winter Olympics for Team USA, Kenworthy and skater Adam Rippon, who won bronze in the team figure skating.
This makes a total of 15 publicly out LGBTQ athletes at Pyeongchang, a record number for the Winter Olympics, according to SB Nation Outsports. At Sochi there were only seven.
Though this still falls short of the 56 LGBTQ athletes competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, it marks progress.
Kenworthy believes it will inspire and motivate people to go into these sports.
“Had there been someone kissing their boyfriend on national TV when I was a kid and it was accepted and praised and all good, I think it would have changed the course of my life,” he says.