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Volume 26 No. 59
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U.S. Freeskier Kenworthy Eyes Move To Team GB For '22 Games

Kenworthy hopes to compete in all three freeski disciplines -- slopestyle, halfpipe and big air
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Silver Medal-winning freeskier Gus Kenworthy is laying the groundwork to switch national allegiances from the U.S. to Great Britain before the ’22 Beijing Games. If he follows through, he would become just the second U.S. medalist -- and by far the most commercially prominent -- to switch countries. No final decision has been made, said Michael Spencer, Kenworthy’s longtime agent. Kenworthy, who grew up in Colorado, is eligible to switch under Int’l Ski Federation rules because his mother is a British national and he was born in the U.K. The change is being driven by Kenworthy’s hopes to compete in all three freeski disciplines -- slopestyle, halfpipe and big air. U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not accommodated training schedules to facilitate that, Spencer said. Team GB also would give him less competition to make the limited number of Olympic spots for each country.

“The biggest thing is he wants to compete in all three events, and we need to find the best scenario to do that,” Spencer said. “In the last two cycles, the format with the U.S. team has not been conducive to allow that to happen. And with him being the star that he is, you’d think maybe they’d find a way to help manage his program a little bit better so he could try to make it in both.”

USS and GB Snow Sports have both approved the transfer. It would still require Int'l Ski Federation approval, but that is seen as a formality if both countries agree. He would not need to make a final decision until the start of the ‘20-21 snow sports season. USS CEO Tiger Shaw praised Kenworthy in a statement as a “world class athlete” and said, “We fully support his desire to compete for Great Britain, where he has close family and dual citizenship." Spencer said the considerations Kenworthy is seeking from USS ultimately would benefit other athletes with ambitions of medaling in multiple disciplines. Multiple-event athletes are most likely to break through as stars, Spencer argues, which benefits the entire sport.

Kenworthy is trying to compete in his third Olympics. After winning Silver in slopestyle in the ’14 Sochi Games, he battled injuries at the ’18 Pyeongchang Games and finished 12th. He was not named to the U.S. team for the ’19 World Championships in Park City, Utah. While his competition results have been mixed, Kenworthy’s commercial career has soared since the ‘18 Games. He starred in the latest season of FX’ “American Horror Story” and has 1.2 million Instagram followers. He also is arguably one of the most famous openly gay male Olympians to compete for Team USA.

Experts said a transfer would have both upsides and downsides for Kenworthy’s commercial career. On one hand, he likely would not be part of the promo campaign orchestrated by NBC and Team USA sponsors. However, as a two-time Olympian and his status in the LGBTQ community, he does not depend on that lift. Additionally, the transfer could lend new life to his well-known backstory. One more consideration -- competing in all three disciplines, which is probable under Team GB but virtually impossible with Team USA, would give him more airtime and a longer lifespan during the brief Olympic marketing window.

Nation-switching is not uncommon in the Olympics, but only seven people have competed for the U.S. and then left for another country, according to Olympics historian Bill Mallon. Sailor Rod Davis is the only person to leave the U.S. after winning a medal -- he claimed Gold at the ’84 L.A. Games before winning Silver for New Zealand in Barcelona eight years later.