A little more than five weeks from today, the Winter Olympics will start in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and feature that rarest of species — an openly gay male Olympian.
The freestyle skier, who came out in 2015, does not shy away from being a gay role model — he welcomes it, as he told Time in a wide-ranging interview.
“The thought of being the first openly gay male ever to compete in the Winter Olympics — I totally embrace that,” says Kenworthy. “I so badly want to inspire that community and do well for them. It’s f-cking cool.”
(Kenworthy will likely not be the only gay male Olympian in Pyeongchang, so he will have to share the first-ever designation. Canadian pairs figure skater Eric Radford is set to compete, while American skater Adam Rippon hopes to qualify).
That’s great to hear and it shows that Kenworthy realizes the importance of out LGBT elite athletes, of which there are still so few. It also shows that an athlete can still be highly successful and focus on his sport while also seeing the big picture.
Kenworthy, a gold medal favorite, is being heavily promoted by the U.S. Olympic Committee and NBC, which does bring added pressure to succeed.
That ratchets up even more pressure on Kenworthy, whose face will now be on corporate billboards and whose story will be featured in NBC’s Olympics coverage. Then there’s the added weight of being a first. “He’s not necessarily able to let loose and have as much fun as he used to,” says Matt Wilkas, an actor and Kenworthy’s current boyfriend. “He’s moodier. He grinds his teeth at night. I can wake up and hear it. I have to nudge him.”