When Gus Kenworthy competed at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 he was afraid that someone would find out that he is gay — fast-forward eight years and he is out and proud as are dozens of other athletes at the Beijing Games.
The British-American freestyle skier, who won silver for the United States in Sochi in the slopestyle competition, famously kissed his boyfriend Matt Wilkas live on television before his qualifying run four years later at the Olympics in Pyeongchang.
“It was really tough being in Sochi actually,” 30-year-old Kenworthy recalled in an interview with Reuters.
“We had all sorts of media training ahead of the Games because there was anti-LGBT legislation in place and they said that no athletes, no press, no diplomats, would be exempt from the laws in Russia.
“Although I was in the closet and I wasn’t even out, I just felt very not welcomed there, and I didn’t feel like I could be my true self, and I think I had hopes in the back of my mind to maybe speak my truth at the Games in spite of that legislation, and I didn’t.
“Ultimately that Games was kind of the catalyst for me to start thinking about coming out, and kind of put the gears in motion for me to make that announcement and do that,” he added.
Sports website OutSports estimate that there are more than 30 LGBTQ athletes competing at the Beijing Games.
Born in Chelmsford, England, Kenworthy is in Beijing competing for Britain following a switch in allegiance.
“Honestly, it means the world to me to get to compete here as an out proud gay man and to know that there are other out LGBTQ athletes that are here competing,” he said.
Kenworthy never thought he would see the day when he would be on the world stage as an out gay man and hopes it will reach the stage where stories such as his are no longer newsworthy.
“Maybe it gets to a point where you don’t even have to come out, because the assumption is not that you’re straight unless you make a statement otherwise,” he said.
The 30-year-old hopes that his decision to come out will make it easier for others.
“I think for anybody that wants to come out but is struggling, I’d just encourage them to try and live their truth or speak their truth, even if it’s just to one person,” he said.
“It’s such a liberating experience to tell someone.”