TELLURIDE –Telluride and much of the U.S. are still abuzz following Gus Kenworthy and his U.S. teammates Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper’s historic performance at the Olympics last week, when the three stomped their way to a podium sweep in the ski slopestyle competition. It marked the third U.S. podium sweep in the history of the Winter Games.
Gus, a Telluride High School graduate, grabbed the silver medal while Christensen took gold and Goepper grabbed bronze in the sport’s debut in Sochi on Feb. 13. And while Gus’s silver medal deserves accolades enough, his visit to Russia also brought national attention when he announced on social media his plans to adopt the stray mother dog and her four puppies he found near Olympic Stadium.
According to Peter Kenworthy, Gus planned to leave Sochi on Wednesday for New York City. The puppies remain at a veterinarian’s office in Sochi, and, according to Gus, will be flown to the U.S. once they are given a clean bill of health.
All puppy Instagram shots, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box covers and Twitter flirtations with Miley Cyrus aside, Gus’s trip to Sochi was all about the ski slopestyle competition. In his first of two runs in the final round, Gus was well on his way to a high-scoring run, but was unable to land a clean switch triple cork 14 on the final jump.
Remaining cool, Gus put his Olympic dreams on the line in his final run and landed a switch triple in style. He went big and the judges agreed, awarding him a score of 93.6. For Kenworthy, scoring the silver medal was hard to comprehend at the time.
“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 U.S.A…it was overwhelming,” Gus said.
Back in Telluride, Gus’s mother, Pip Kenworthy, said she almost “crumbled” when she watched him fall on the first run, but knew he had it in him to bring his best to his final run.
“After his first run, when I saw him say on TV, ‘I have one more run,’ I knew he could do it,” Pip said. “And he did it. He knew his final run was a podium run, and so did we. We went crazy when we saw it.”
Christensen earned an unbeatable 95.80, while Goepper landed himself the bronze medal with a score of 92.4. The medaling trio joins members of the 1956 U.S. men’s figure-skating and 2002 men’s halfpipe-snowboarding teams as the only U.S. teams to sweep a podium in the U.S. Olympics’ Winter Games.
“It’s been incredible,” Gus said at Sochi. “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.”
Gus’s father, Peter Kenworthy, who also watched his son’s Olympic debut from Telluride, said he was confident Gus had the ability to do well in the Olympics, adding that Gus, his youngest son, was possibly under less pressure in Sochi than during his Olympic trials, which may have been a factor in his Olympics success.
“I’m not sure he felt the pressure to perform in the Olympics at the same level he felt in qualifying,” Peter said. “It was almost more intense, because the downside of not qualifying is that you don’t go to the Olympics. Once he was named to the team, he was there, he knew he was going to be a part of the experience and I think there was less pressure on him.”
Warm temperatures at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park provided soft, carvable snow, giving athletes the perfect medium for putting down some of the best runs ever seen in the sport. All top three ski-slopestyle athletes were able to land triple corks in their runs, which many see as the future of the sport.
“I’d say this is pretty amazing,” Skogen Sprang, U.S. Freeskiing head slopestyle coach, said of the trio’s performance. “I’m still kind of in shock. We didn’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.”
Gus’s success in Sochi, Peter said, is a special time for the entire Kenworthy family – and for the Telluride community.
“He’s our hometown boy, and he’s just a normal kid,” Peter said. “I think it’s really inspiring for young people in this community.”
“The outcome couldn’t have been better,” Pip added. “I fell to pieces the next day.”
‘He’s Had to Pinch Himself a Bunch’
Just a few days before the Olympic ski slopestyle event, Gus found a stray mother dog and four puppies near Olympic Stadium, in Sochi. Before even competing on the world stage, the 22-year-old found himself in the national spotlight after, innocently enough, posting pictures of himself and the puppies.
Knowing that Russian authorities had been euthanizing stray dogs leading up to the games, Gus announced on social media that he planned to vaccinate the dogs and arrange for their transport to the U.S., where he plans to keep one puppy and arrange for homes for the other four. Gus, and the dogs, went viral.
Peter observed that – despite the national notoriety Gus received from the puppy publicity – the dogs provided a happy distraction, filling up the hours spent waiting to compete.
“Gus is used to flying in, training, competing and then leaving,” Peter said. “When he got to Sochi, he had to wait for the better part of two weeks, and I think he was starting to get antsy. I think the dogs actually served as a bit of a distraction for him.” Without the dogs, Gus would have “had a lot of time to basically think about the competition, and sometimes the more you think about it, the worse it is.”
Knowing Gus can’t walk down the street without petting a dog, Pip wasn’t too surprised to see her youngest son focus his attention on the puppies. But she was stunned by the massive national response to Gus’s puppy story.
“I’ve had phone calls from people here who said they have private planes and that they could fly the dogs home,” she said. “Gus genuinely loves the dogs, and the community is going nuts for the dogs, too.”
The stray dogs of Sochi are benefiting, as well, from Gus’s reaching out, with CBS News reporting this week that members of the U.S. men’s Hockey Team have reached out to Gus for advice on how to bring stray dogs back to the U.S. with them. U.S. snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis is bringing a dog back, and female hockey star Kelli Stack has also expressed interest, Tweeting, “I want to bring one home!”
But not much can top Miley Cyrus, who, according to Gus’s Twitter feed, hit him “like a wrecking ball” when she followed his feed, and tweeted back, “Hi! You’re the best:).”
“I think he needs to be careful there,” Peter said. “That seems like dangerous waters to be swimming in. But it’s all fun. Who knows what’s going on there, with Gus and his sense of humor?”
Puppy love aside, Peter said the entire Olympic experience is obviously one that Gus will never forget.
“Right from the start of the Opening Ceremony – we saw him on TV and saw his Instagram selfie – he looked to be having such a good time,” Peter said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he was so enthusiastic. He said the coolest part of the Opening Ceremony was when the Russian team marched in. They were received so well, and there was such a buzz that it was crazy. It was an amazing thing for him to be a part of.
“He’s had to pinch himself a bunch.”
“I think he’s handled everything incredibly well,” Pip said. “His life has changed since winning silver and becoming a media figure. He is such a smart boy, and it’s all so exciting.”
Both Pip and Peter said they initially regretted their decision to not go to Sochi, but that now, looking back, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Looking back, there is nowhere else I would rather have been than here in Telluride,” Peter said. “Everyone was so generous, excited and supportive. When we were watching his qualifying runs live at Oak [restaurant] with all those people, I don’t know that I have ever been in that kind of atmosphere before. Every element on every run, people were just erupting.”
“I couldn’t have wished for anything better,” Pip said.