Gus Kenworthy Opens Up About His New Friendship with Fellow Out Olympian Adam Rippon
Skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon have become "fast friends" and are looking forward to hanging out in South Korea at the Winter Olympics
Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon, who are set to be the first openly gay men ever to compete on Team USA at the Winter Olympics, have become “fast friends” and are looking forward to hanging out in South Korea next month, Kenworthy tells PEOPLE.
Kenworthy, a returning silver medalist, and Rippon, a first-time Olympian, connected over social media “awhile back” when the skier reached out to the skater on Instagram to congratulate him on being named to Team USA.
In turn, Rippon, 28, has “been keeping tabs on me, checking in,” says Kenworthy, 26. On Sunday, he too earned an Olympic spot on the American slopestyle U.S. Olympic team.
“We’ve been messaging and exchanging well-wishes and good luck, and we’re excited to hang out and kiki in Korea,” Kenworthy says. (Kiki — for the uninitiated — means, basically, to party.)
Being one of at least two openly gay athletes at the Games in February will be a stark change for Kenworthy, who was closeted when he competed at the Russia Olympics in 2014, landing on the podium in slopestyle skiing.
He came out in October 2015 on the cover of ESPN the Magazine.
“I have the LGBT audience behind me and there’s all these people that I want to make proud, and I want to do well aside from just myself. And so I feel like I’ve got a little bit more on my shoulders,” Kenworthy told PEOPLE last fall. “But I also think that I do well under pressure, so I’m hoping that that is a good thing for me.”
He says now that while he is “really proud to represent the U.S.,” he also “feels so proud to be out this time.”
“I think I’m competing for the LGBT community just as much,” he says.
Like Rippon, 28, Kenworthy has strong words for Vice President Mike Pence, who will lead the American delegation at the Olympics. Rippon previously criticized Pence for his anti-LGBT politics over the years, which Kenworthy echoes — joking that maybe he will “make out with his boyfriend in front of” Pence.
“In 2018, with how accepting the world is and should be and is getting, I think having him lead the delegation seems backward,” Kenworthy says.
“When you’re given a platform, it’s important to use that platform for good,” he says. (Pence’s press secretary previously told PEOPLE that the vice president “will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.”)
“When I came out, I thought I was going to lose my marketability and lose sponsors, and coming into this Olympics, I signed all these big deals with Fortune 500 companies,” says Kenworthy, whose sponsors have included Comcast’s Xfinity (which says it will be curating a one-stop shop for Olympic TV viewing with its Olympic Home feature) as well as Ralph Lauren and Toyota.
“[It’s] amazing to have a company that’s so massive … to have them want to partner with me and stand behind me felt incredible,” Kenworthy says of Comcast specifically.
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Earlier this month, after moving one step closer to qualifying to go to the Olympics, he tweeted in celebration, adding the hashtag #TeamUSGay.
It’s a sign of the pride he takes in being part of the larger LGBT community. Plus, he says, “I love a pun.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics will air live starting Feb. 8. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.