PARK CITY, UTAH – Ski phenom Gus Kenworthy made history on multiple fronts this week, when the Telluride athlete was named to the first-ever U.S. men’s Olympic ski slopestyle team following his second-place finish at the Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix Tour at Park City on Saturday.
Kenworthy joins U.S. Freeskiing Team teammates Nick Goepper and Bobby Brown as the first three ski slopestyle athletes to compete at the Olympic level, with the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games marking the Olympic debut of the ski slopestyle and ski halfpipe disciplines.
The historic announcement in Park City on Saturday also marks the first time a Telluride-bred athlete has made it to the Winter Olympics (Scott Mercier rode for the U.S. at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona on the 100km team time trial squad).
“This means the world to me,” said Kenworthy, a 2010 Telluride High School graduate who began his professional ski career at age 16, after winning recognition for a self-edited ski flick he made with some friends and posted on the Internet.
On Monday, speaking of this newest – and most exciting – career highlight, Kenworthy said: “I wanted to [make the U.S. Olympic team] for myself, because obviously making the team is a huge accomplishment, but I also really wanted to do it for everyone who has supported me along the way.
“I’ve had such strong support from the Telluride community, and my friends, family, and sponsors, that I really wanted to make everyone proud and show them, and myself, that I really could do it.” Peter Kenworthy, Gus’s father, was in Park City Friday, to witness his son’s slopestyle competition podium finish, and at his second-place win Saturday. Athletes aiming to qualify for the Olympics must post at least two podium results in five qualifying events to make the cut; prior to last weekend, Kenworthy had no podium finishes in slopestyle, and only one podium finish in ski halfpipe.
Last weekend changed all that, with Kenworthy qualifying for slopestyle after two podium slots. He earned the points necessary to clinch the fourth and final spot on the U.S. ski halfpipe team, as well, but coaches awarded that discretionary spot to Torin Yater-Wallace, who was injured earlier this winter.
“This is a dream come true,” said Peter Kenworthy of his son’s upcoming trip to Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympic Games. “This has been his passion since he was a little boy – to ski this style of skiing, and to compete and to travel around the world. He’s euphoric.”
Kenworthy has certainly been a force to reckon with since emerging as one of the sport’s up-and-coming competitors four years ago, breaking into the freestyle ski scene with cameos in ski films and later as a constant competitor in such high-level circuits as the Dew Tour and X Games. He was #1 in 2011 and 2012 within the American Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) rankings, and last season broke through with significant victories, including his first-ever X Games medal in Tignes, France, and a second-place finish at the Sochi Olympic halfpipe venue during a World Cup contest.
Kenworthy then had a relatively rocky start to the 2013-14 ski season, finding the podium only once in three Olympic qualifying events.
The pressure was on for last weekend’s back-to-back contests in Park City, Kenworthy admitted, as they offered his last chances at winning an Olympic team berth.
“I had some talks with my dad, which I think helped me get into the right head space, so that I was focused and ready,” Kenworthy said of heading into the two crucial competitions.
Now that he has successfully cleared the hurdle and joined the Olympic team, Kenworthy has his sights set on making his – and his sport’s – Olympic debut everything it can be.
“Every Olympian has the unique opportunity to be representing their country on the international stage, but this is also a tremendous opportunity for us – we get to be a part of something bigger,” he said, of the U.S. ski slopestyle team. “We’re showcasing our sport for the first time.”
Kenworthy will head to Munich, Germany on Jan. 29, where he will spend two days getting prepped for the big event: He will have an outfit tailored for the Opening Ceremonies and a fitting for a U.S. Olympic team uniform, and he will be briefed on the what to expect at the Games.
He and his U.S. Ski Team teammates will then fly via private plane to Sochi, Russia on Feb. 1. The Opening Ceremonies take place Feb. 7; men’s ski slopestyle qualifications and finals are slated for Feb. 13.
First, however, Kenworthy will have the chance to go big on American soil. He heads to Aspen this week to compete in the Winter X Games in Big Air, slopestyle and superpipe. Joining him is fellow Telluride athlete, Hagen Kearney, who will be competing in the snowboardcross event. X Games will take place throughout the weekend; visit www.xgames.com for event schedule.