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‘It’s weird to think about walking away’: Gus Kenworthy on retirement and Euphoria dream role

Exclusive: "I’ve had a career that I'm really proud of" the Olympian tells Attitude

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Instagram/@guskenworthy

Now that Gus Kenworthy, the British-born-American-raised Olympic skier, has officially retired from the world of sport he’s beginning to look at what to do next. Understandably, after skiing from a young age and competing in three Winter Olympics, figuring out the next steps (or the equivalent in skiing terms) could be daunting.

But he already has some ideas, including landing a role in HBO’s popular teen drama, Euphoria.

Fresh off a quick-stop tour from Beijing, where he competed in the 2022 Games, to Los Angeles, via London and Milan, the openly gay skier sits down to chat to Attitude about what he’d like to do next, as well as reflecting on his career as an athlete. 

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Congrats on the Olympics! How do you feel having done your last one?

Not relieved. I’ve literally been home for two days and have already been thinking if I can compete in another one, which my boyfriend doesn’t like. I’m just too competitive. It’s hard because I didn’t have the storybook ending that I wanted, where I’m the oldest guy and I’m coming back and doing it for GB, and I get the gold.

I could say I’ll do one more but that might not be the storybook ending in that case, either. So, when do you call it? I’ve had a career that I’m really proud of. It’s weird to think about walking away, it hasn’t fully hit me. I think I am still struggling to come to terms with it.

But it’s literally been like two days. I think once something else starts happening, I’ll feel a lot of relief.

How are you doing after the halfpipe final crash?

I’m fine. I think it looked worse than it was. I mean, it hurt. I was sore, but nothing serious happened. I was mostly just frustrated because I had trained really hard to do this run that I was really excited to showcase.

It was so windy; everyone modified their runs. With the exception of Nico [Porteous] who won I don’t think anyone did the run they wanted to do.

Is there a bruise?

Not really. I had a good one last Olympics, and I was overly thirsty and showed off. But this is nothing.

Do you have a favourite memory from your time as an athlete?

Definitely. I had a really long career so there are a lot of those memories. My first professional career podium was a big moment. Coming out and the season after was my best season to date. I was consistently on the podium at every event. It almost felt godly.

The Olympics in 2018; walking in the opening ceremony with Adam Rippon as the first two openly gay men to compete in the Winter Olympics was definitely a highlight. In time, I’ll think of these Beijing Games as a highlight. I don’t right now because it wasn’t what I wanted. But I am still proud of it.

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Do you have any regrets?

I have contest runs that I fell in that I sometimes replay in my head. But it’s that, ‘should of, would of, could of’ game that you just can’t really play because it doesn’t work like that. I also believe that if you change one thing, you change everything.

Overall, I’m very happy with my career and what I’ve accomplished. So, I guess I would say no. There are certainly losses that have hit harder than others, but ultimately, I don’t have any regrets.

Is there anything that you’re not going to miss about competing?

Oh my god, literally all of it! That feeling of being at the top of the pipe and it’s freezing and knowing that the outcome is it either going well or not and it being very painful. I’m excited for not fearing getting hurt all the time. And I’m excited to just be home. Or travel, because I actually want to travel.

Before the Olympics, there was a vague warning from China about people exercising their freedom of expression. Was there a tangible pressure when you were there not to speak out against its human rights record?

There wasn’t. I almost feel like that makes it more frightening. It was really ominous. I was never at ease because we submitted COVID tests every morning. And in the back in my head the whole time I was like: ‘Girl, you’re gonna test positive’. I was just waiting for it.

There wasn’t propaganda or anything, but it definitely was in the back of my mind that that was one way they could do it, or the cybersecurity concerns. But I think I made it out unscathed. I haven’t checked all my bank accounts…

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Were you disappointed no one else spoke up?

I am but simultaneously, I understand. When there’s an issue like Russia’s anti-LGBT legislation or China’s atrocious human rights issues, the typical thing for athletes to say is ‘I’m just here to compete and I’m just trying to focus on my competition’.

And there’s truth to that, it’s a really high-stress environment and you’re expected to perform to the absolute best of your abilities with the most pressure you’ve ever felt and the world watching. So, I do get it but it’s a cop-out. And it’s frustrating.

Would you ever consider not speaking up, or will you always be of the mindset that you have this platform why not use it?

Yeah, I am firmly in that camp. I would feel fine if I didn’t know anything about something saying that and that I don’t want to say the wrong thing. That’s a fine response. But no, I don’t think I’ll ever be like, ‘I’m just here to compete’.

I’ve said all along, this falls on the shoulders of the International Olympic Committee. Countries did diplomatic boycotts of the games; I feel that sends a strong message. But ultimately, it doesn’t really accomplish anything.

Athletes speaking out sends a message of solidarity. But I also don’t think that me talking s*** hasn’t done anything.

Would you consider working with Tom Daley on getting countries who criminalise or use the death penalty for LGBTQ people banned from the Olympics?

Happily. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I saw him in Tokyo just after he and Matty [Lee] won the synchro event and then briefly interviewed him because I was there with NBC. Since then, there hasn’t been much overlap, but I would love to work with him.

After a record number of LGBTQ athletes at the Olympics, Paralympics, and the Winter Olympics, what needs to be done to keep progress moving forwards?

Both Tom Daley and I are cisgender, white, gay men. We value any representation but it’s just one narrative and it’s the narrative that in terms of representation has had a spotlight on it.

I would love to see other queer stories being uplifted like trans athletes and LGBTQ athletes of colour. I also think that each and every time an athlete comes out, I think that we – both the sports and LGBTQ communities – need to really uplift them.

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You’ve tried acting before and you’ve indicated wanting to do more. Is there anything that you’re watching at the moment that you’d like to be in?

I’m fully obsessed with Euphoria right now. It’s just so fun. It’s also very dark, but the world they’ve created is so rich and vibrant. The way it’s shot is so cool. And it feels so young and edgy.

I didn’t watch the first season when everyone else did. And I remember hearing everyone talk about it. And then when the second season started on TV, I watched the first season and I inhaled it. I loved it! That would be a very cool show to be in.

Is there a role you’d like?

In high school? Again? I don’t know. Maybe there’s a role for me that’s not in high school. I have no idea. I don’t know what that would be. But I would be excited to be in that obviously.

Have you got any ideas of what you are going to do acting-wise?

I don’t have a clear path in my mind. But I am planning on giving myself just a second. I just want to be home and be able to go to the gym in a way that I like versus a way that I have to for sport and get to be a little bit relaxed for a moment, sleep in, take the dogs for long walks, see my friends, and then start to figure it out.

I’m hoping that I can start auditioning for roles and work with acting coaches. I’ve also been writing a little bit and would like to put together a collection of essays or short stories from my life, kind of like an autobiography, but less chronological and more satirical.

Any idea what you might call the book?

Oh god! I have no idea!

Attitude’s new-look March/April issue is out now.