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Catching Up With Gus Kenworthy & The Sochi Pups

By Peggy Shinn | Nov. 25, 2014, 1:56 p.m. (ET)

Gus Kenworthy competes in the slopestyle skiing qualification at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Feb. 13, 2014 in Rosa Khutor, Russia.

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that Gus Kenworthy is an Olympic silver medalist. The 23-year-old freeskier is better known for his Sochi puppies than the switch triple rodeo 1440 and double cork 1620 tail that he did to win silver in slopestyle’s Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia.

He had no idea that adopting the four puppies and their mother would make him a celebrity. He just wanted to save the adorable puppies that were hanging around the Gorki Media Center. His friend, photographer Robin Macdonald, had tweeted Kenworthy a photo of the canine brood, and after visiting them, Kenworthy knew what he had to do.

“We decided that we were going to try to do anything we could to bring them back,” he said recently.

"Oh my glob, look who I just found! :) #sochistrays" Gus Kenworthy posted on Twitter on Feb. 11, 2014.

Stray dogs in Sochi had already made headlines around the world, and here was someone willing to do something about it.

“Now it’s all people know me as,” said Kenworthy, with his charming grin. “It’s just funny how it works out.”

But the puppies also played a small part in helping Kenworthy reach the podium. The decision to adopt, as well as the process of getting them back to the U.S., became “a welcome distraction.”

“Normally, we go to an event three days before we compete,” explained Kenworthy. “We were in Russia almost two weeks before our event. It was a long time to sit and wait and think about things.”

Having something else to focus on took the pressure off Kenworthy, who was the middleman in a U.S. podium sweep of the slopestyle skiing event.

Eight months after the Games, Kenworthy reported that the dogs that survived are doing well. The mother dog, Moma, is living with Kenworthy’s mother, Pip, and stepdad in Telluride, Colorado, where Kenworthy grew up.

Sadly, two of Moma’s puppies passed away. Sochi died in Russia “because the authorities there did not handle her correctly,” said Macdonald. Rosa died from a virus (likely distemper) after Macdonald got her back to the U.S. Someone else grabbed the fourth puppy in the original litter as Macdonald sorted out transportation.

But Macdonald managed to bring home two other dogs. He found an injured dog and brought her back with the hope of finding better treatment in the U.S. A woman who works for Humane Society International, which helped Kenworthy and Macdonald adopt the dogs, adopted the injured dog, but she later passed away from the condition.

And a volunteer brought a mostly black puppy to Macdonald because “he hoped he would have a better life” in the U.S., said the photographer.

Kenworthy kept one puppy from the original litter, Jake (beagle-colored pupping), and the mostly black puppy whom they named Mishka. These two lived with him during the summer in Denver and are now with Macdonald in Canada.

“We sort of share them,” said Macdonald. “Originally, Gus was attached to one of the puppies that ended up passing away, so he had Jake and Mishka living with him. He didn’t realize how busy he is during the winter and how much work two puppies are, so I am looking after them in Vancouver. This way, they don’t have to stay with a friend or relative every few days.”

Macdonald had them tested for breed and said they both have shepherd in them, plus about five other breeds ranging from Doberman to bloodhound to lap-dog sized Lhasa Apso.

And what do Jake and Mishka like to do?

“Jake paws at everything to get attention, eats, barks, and runs for hours,” said Macdonald. “(Mishka’s favorite thing is) destroying everything and taking everything away from Jake.”

Even with the two rambunctious puppies, Kenworthy said he had a mellow summer decompressing from the stress of an Olympic year.

“I was feeling a little bit burned out after the season,” he said. “It was really high stress in the beginning, trying to make the team. Then the Olympics were a little stressful. It was just a long season, I was ready to take a break.”

"Hungry for BBQ. #droolcity #4thofJuly" Gus Kenworthy 

posted on Twitter on July 4, 2014.

He hung out with Jake and Mishka, as evidenced by several hilarious tweets: Mishka drooling for July Fourth BBQ, a torn up book on the floor (“That's fine! It's not like I wanted to know how it ended or anything...”), and several photos where Kenworthy is making the same facial expression as the dogs.

In late September, Kenworthy was back on skis competing in Freestyle.CH, a gathering of top snowboarders, freeskiers, mountain bikers and freestyle motocross riders in Zurich, Switzerland. After the event, he and three friends traveled to Britain to film an Atomic Airtime video of the four riding rails and going off small jumps in three of the UK’s indoor ski domes — Glasgow, Tamworth and Milton Keynes.

This coming winter, Kenworthy’s schedule is full. But it will likely be more relaxed than last season, where freeskiers and snowboarders competed in five Olympic qualifiers, plus the X Games, even before the Olympic Games began in Sochi.

“I don’t think it’s going to be like groundbreaking tricks, that much innovation, or a lot of new stuff,” Kenworthy said. “I really think it’s going to be kind of a step back and working on the runs done at the Olympics, working on the style angle and creativity.”

Last January, Kenworthy became the first man to land a switch triple rodeo 1440 in competition when he threw the trick at the X Games slopestyle finals. He still only finished fifth. Then at the Olympics, he upped the revolutions once more with the double cork 1620 tail on his first jump. Off the last jump, he did the switch triple rodeo 1440, the most dangerous trick attempted in the finals because he takes off and lands backwards (switch).

His friend and fellow Olympic podium mate, gold medalist Joss Christensen, has known Kenworthy since they were 12 years old and says his friend has helped progress the sport of freeskiing “in all aspects.”

“He just skis everything,” said Christensen. “I’d say he’s pushed it since day one.”

Kenworthy’s goal this year is to medal at X Games. His only X Games medal to date is from European X Games in 2013.

A two-time member of the U.S. world championship team, Kenworthy is disappointed that the 2015 FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships in Austria conflict with X Games this year.

“If you’re getting invited to X Games, you’re not going to miss it to go to world champs,” he said. “But then whoever goes to world champs and wins is just going to be some random person who wasn’t even invited to X Games. They’re going to have the title of world champion, but nobody was there. It’s sort of weird.”

Not that Kenworthy is counting medals. Asked which was more memorable, adopting the dogs or winning the Olympic silver medal, without hesitating, he said the dogs.

“I’m really excited about the medal,” he confessed. “But I would rather not have the medal and still have the dogs than vice versa.”

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008. 

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Gus Kenworthy

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