At the 2014 Olympics where he won the silver medal in slopestyle skiing, Gus Kenworthy toyed with the idea of finishing up one of his runs by skiing up to the crowd of spectators and kissing his boyfriend. It would have been a dramatic way for Kenworthy to become the first openly gay male from the U.S. in Winter Olympics history. But Kenworthy wasn’t out, back then, to his parents and siblings. He decided it’d be too much, too soon.
“It would have not only been a shock to the sport and the Olympics,” he later told Conan O’Brien about the hypothetical same-sex kiss in Sochi. “My family would have been like, ‘What the hell?!’”
Instead, he came out to his inner circle, and then to the world with a 2015 ESPN The Magazine story. He’s arrived now at the Pyeongchang Olympics as one of a pair of history-making gay competitors. His counterpart is Adam Rippon, the 28-year-old figure skater who, within days of the games’ commencement, became a media sensation thanks both to his precisely pretty skate style as well as his quick, cutting, and decidedly queer wit. Rippon and Kenworthy are among 14 openly LGBT athletes from around the world at Pyeongchang—the highest number for any Winter Olympics ever. The results, so far, have been a crash course in gay aesthetics, politics, and personalities. Openness, viewers have been reminded, can make great TV—and a great difference in lives.