Gus Kenworthy knows pressure all too well. At 26, the Olympic athlete’s every move, both professional and personal, is thrust under the microscope, carefully examined and often critiqued by the public.
But much of that pressure was alleviated after Kenworthy revealed in a 2015 interview with ESPN that he is gay. “After I came out, that weight was lifted off my shoulders,” he tells Us Weekly exclusively. “And now I’m so happy to be here, competing as my authentic self, at the Olympics as an openly gay athlete.”
It’s the freestyle skier’s sexuality, in part, that inspires him to speak up for others. “I think the Olympics are a time for the world to come together and put aside differences, but we’re also coming to represent ourselves, our communities and our countries, so I think it’s important to stand up and be a voice,” he says.
So when Vice President Mike Pence announced in January that he, too, would travel to PyeongChang, South Korea, to lead the U.S. delegation to the 2018 Winter Games, it didn’t take long for Kenworthy — and many other athletes — to call out the conservative politician’s longtime opposition to gay rights.
“Our country is a patchwork nation, so I want to make sure people remember that,” the Head & Shoulders ambassador, who is working with the brand’s #ShouldersOfGreatness campaign, tells Us. “The LGBT community has been so marginalized and underrepresented in so many ways that it’s more important than ever to stand up and be proud at these games. Mike Pence may say he’s now an ally, but he has previously pushed agendas that have not been supportive, so that’s why I want to use my voice.”
That verbalization was the catalyst of Kenworthy’s friendship with Adam Rippon, another openly gay Olympian. “We messaged each other on Instagram during the qualifying process and were supporting each other and rooting each other on. We officially met in person at the opening ceremony,” the Colorado native recalls. “We talked the whole time. We laughed, took photos and became fast friends before walking out together. … We have an understanding of one another and mutual respect and admiration.”
Another support system is Kenworthy’s boyfriend of two years, Matthew Wilkas, who recently traveled overseas for the Olympics. “It means the world to have him here supporting me,” the athlete tells Us. “He really picks me up and helps put the pieces back together, so I’m really lucky and grateful to have him. I’m looking forward to spending more time together with him after the games.”
Read more of Us Weekly’s exclusive interview with Kenworthy below!
Us: Events are being pushed because of the weather. How are you dealing with the cold and does it affect your performance?
GK: It does. When it’s cold, your muscles don’t work the same way and it’s harder to get in the zone. Luckily for our event, it was pretty amazing weather — really the best we’ve had during the Olympics — so I feel fortunate.
Us: Does your boyfriend ever ski with you?
GK: I took him skiing for first time over Christmas two years ago, and that was the last time we got the opportunity! We had a lot of fun and he did a great job, but my season is so busy it’s really hard to find time to ski for fun. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it more after the Olympics.
Us: Any plans to take steps toward marriage?
GK: Not at the moment. It’s something I’ve thought of from time to time, but I’m still pretty young. We’re just taking it day by day.
Us: Do you want to have children one day?
GK: I’m not sure! Growing up, I always wanted kids and that was one of the things that made it hard for me to accept being gay, but now I know it’s totally an option to have kids. I’m just not sure at this point. I’m pretty stoked being the cool gay uncle, though!
Us: What do you eat before a competition? Does it differ from your diet when you aren’t competing?
GK: My diet doesn’t change regardless of whether or not I’m competing. It’s not that strict either. I try not to eat too much dessert or too many sugary things, like bread or pasta. But I’m not crazy and I’ll eat pasta if that’s what someone if making. It’s all about trying to find a balance and eat healthy.
Us: What are your plans after these Olympic Games?
GK: I definitely would love to get a vacation in. No plans to yet, but I would love to go somewhere warm with Matt. I also just want to spent more time with him and my family and friends I haven’t been able to see too often over the last two and a half years because of training and competing.
Us: Has anyone ever told you that you look like Richard Madden from Game of Thrones?
GK: Everybody tells me that! I have never seen an episode. It’s too far along in seasons and there are so many characters. It would be like six months of my life catching up!
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