TELLURIDE – Gus Kenworthy was part of a U.S. podium sweep in the men’s slopestyle skiing competition In the sport’s Olympic debut Thursday in Sochi, winning the silver medal. He took the podium early Thursday, alongside his close friends and teammates Joss Christensen, who took the gold medal, and Nick Goepper, who took the bronze medal.
“This is all overwhelming. It’s been pretty crazy: the feeling of landing that run knowing it was the best run I’ve ever done and that I landed it smooth, just waiting for the score, having everyone chanting USA…it was overwhelming,” Kenworthy said after the event.
Kenworthy was a Sochi favorite well before his silver medal-winning run, upon announcing via social media his plans to adopt a stray mother dog and four puppies he found not far from the Olympic Stadium, vaccinate the dogs and arrange for their transport to the U.S., where he'll keep one puppy and arrange for homes for the other four. Russian officials had worked to eradicate the city's large population of stray dogs prior to the Olympics.
In the finals, Christensen came out of the gates swinging and shot into the top spot after his impressive first run, which earned him an unbeatable score of 95.80. Goepper landed second after his first run score of 92.40, but was forced to settle for bronze after Kenworthy laid down a clutch second run that earned him the silver medal.
The slopestyle skiing finals is set to air on NBC’s primetime Olympic coverage on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. To celebrate and watch Kenworthy's medal-winning run, there will be a free watch party on Thursday evening, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Palm Theater. Watch Kenworthy on the big screen.
The trio's podium sweep was the third U.S. sweep in Olympic Winter Games history (joining the U.S. men's figure skating in 1956 and men’s halfpipe snowboarding in 2002).
“It’s been incredible,” Kenworthy said. “I knew the whole time that the U.S. had the potential to get a sweep. We have so many talented skiers. There are like 12 guys in the top 30 and a lot of them couldn’t make it because our team can only have four people maximum.”
The podium sweep was extra-special for Kenworthy, because he stood on the podium with two of his best friends.
“Joss I’ve known since I was 12 years old, and I’m so happy for him with the win,” Kenworthy said. “He skied amazingly. And Nick is always the guy you’re looking to at the contest. He’s the one to beat. He’s so talented. He’s so consistent. So it’s an honor to be with them. Unfortunately [teammate] Bobby [Brown] couldn’t get on the podium, but he’s definitely a medal contender, too.”
Christensen echoed Kenworthy’s sentiment.
“Gus and I hit it off right away,” Christiansen said. “We’ve been such good friends since we were kids and I feel like we’ve pushed each other to get where we’re at today. Gus has been a huge inspiration to me. I’ve always been trying to keep up with him and do what he’s doing.
The weather was amazing. It was so warm and the perfect conditions for us to have a slopestyle contest.”
The new Olympic event saw the tight American crew beat out some of the sport’s top athletes, including Great Britain’s James Woods and Norway’s Andreas Haatveit, and showcased the sport’s mix of volatility and creativity to the world. Warm temperatures at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park provided soft, carveable snow, giving the athletes the perfect medium to put down some of the best runs ever seen in the sport. All three medaling athletes were able to land triple corks in their runs, which many see as the future of slopestyle skiing.
“I’d say this is pretty amazing,” said Skogen Sprang, U.S. Freeskiing head slopestyle coach. “I’m still kind of in shock. We don’t really talk about that before. The chance was there, but you can’t expect it to happen. You just have to do all the steps and the work to get there, and then see how it plays out. It’s amazing. They did their job, stomped their runs and crushed it.”
An Opportunity to Showcase a New Sport
In an interview with NBC’s Today show host Matt Lauer live from Sochi last week, Kenworthy spoke about what it means to be a member of the first-ever Olympic ski slopestyle team.
“It’s cool to make sure the sport is seen the way that we want it to be seen and be the first," said Kenworthy, who was flanked by fellow teammates Maggie Voisin, Julia Krass and Christensen.
With the world looking on, Kenworthy and his freeskiing cohorts will get the chance this week to showcase “ski slopestyle,” the sport they helped to evolve, as men’s and women’s ski slopestyle, along with the halfpipe, make their debut at the Winter Olympics.
In an interview with The Watch last month, Kenworthy described the opportunity to compete on the first-ever U.S. ski slopestyle team as “tremendous.”
“It’s such a cool opportunity to showcase this sport to people around the world, and to do it the way we want to do it. We want it to be seen in the best possible light,” he said, speaking of the sport that has, until recently, been considered just outside the mainstream of winter action sports.
He went on to explain that ski slopestyle and halfpipe comprise a niche of freestyle skiing that has steadily grown in popularity, thanks to its young and trendy athlete demographic. “We want people to take this sport for what it is: Dangerous but not reckless, cool and young and edgy, but with athletes who are polished,” he said.
Kenworthy, a longtime close observer of the sport, grew up studying the techniques of some of freeskiing’s breakout stars, including TJ Schiller and David Chrichton.
When Kenworthy officially launched his professional ski career at age 16, after a ski video filmed with friends in Telluride’s terrain park was picked up by French ski company CoreUPT, the sport of freeskiing – pipe and park skiing – was still in its adolescence. The X Games, held annually in Aspen, was the pinnacle of the sport’s competition, with other events like the Dew Tour and Dumont Cup filling in the season’s gaps. When they weren’t chasing podium finishes (and the cash purses that went with them,) young freeski stars like Kenworthy also fought for roles in ski films to round out their professional resumes.
Yet the goals of a professional freeskier have now changed somewhat, with ski slopestyle and halfpipe finally breaking onto the Olympic scene in Sochi. Making the team is a testament to Gus’s tenacity and mental toughness, says his dad, Peter Kenworthy, who noted that his son’s path to the Winter Olympics has never been easy.
“It’s so difficult to stay balanced and maintain equilibrium when you’re competing at these levels,” Peter Kenworthy said of the road to the Olympics, which, for Gus, included five “Grand Prix” contests this winter that served as qualifiers for the Olympic team. To receive a nomination for the Olympic team, athletes needed to post at least two podium finishes in Grand Prix events. Prior to the final two Grand Prix events, held back-to-back in Park City in January, Kenworthy posted no podium finishes in slopestyle and just one podium finish in ski halfpipe. Kenworthy has been dubbed the “triple threat” because he competes in all three of freeskiing’s disciplines: slopestyle, halfpipe, and Big Air.
He went on to take two podiums in slopestyle and another in halfpipe at the Park City event, thus paving his way to an Olympic team berth.
“He’s had a bunch of setbacks and frustrations in the past, and it’s hard to stay up and perform at those high levels all of the time,” Peter Kenworthy said. Making the Olympic team was “a huge relief” for the entire family – "Mum" Pip Kenworthy and older brothers, Hugh and Nick.
Pip Kenworthy says she sometimes gets so nervous before her youngest son's big events, she becomes physically ill. Sometimes, she said, she can’t even watch as her son launches off multiple-story jumps and performs tricks most people would consider insane.
But as she knows best, it comes with the territory. As a small child learning to ski in Telluride, Gus was passionate "about being airborne," she said. “Even just starting out as a little fellow, it seemed like being in the air was what he loved the most," said Peter Kenworthy. "He was always jumping off rocks, lips, bumps, whatever. Just walking down the street Gus was constantly leaping off windowsills and benches,” his father recalled.
In addition to his love of flying through the air (which continued in the summer, with hours spent on the family’s backyard trampoline), Kenworthy has also always possessed a strong work ethic and unusual drive to push himself to the limit, said his mother. “I definitely always knew that he was different, that he had some incredible force in his personality that would drive him and would never let him give up.” She isn’t all that surprised that her son is now an Olympian.
According to Peter Kenworthy, Gus definitely considered the possibility of winning an Olympic medal one of the high points of his career, the opportunity to showcase his sport as a member of the first-ever Olympic ski slopestyle team was also a dream come true. And now, on an all-American podium, with Kenworthy at the center, it's history.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for Gus, to be bringing his sport to the Olympic stage for the first time. To be an ambassador of freeskiing, to represent his country and be given the chance to make his hometown proud,” his father said, “it’s a wonderful experience for him.”
- Martinique Davis Contributed to this Reporting