The 2016 X Games Aspen was the X Games of Gus Kenworthy.
In 16 prior X Games competitions, Kenworthy had only one medal to his name (a slopestyle skiing bronze in 2013) despite being one of the most elite skiers in the world and owning an Olympic silver medal in slopestyle. But in Aspen, skiing more confidently than ever before in his life, Kenworthy walked away with two silver medals, in slopestyle and superpipe.
Kenworthy kicked off his competition in the superpipe on Thursday with a huge 91.33 his first run to take the lead by more than four points. He bettered that in Run 2, earning 92.33. That held as the highest score of the night until the very last run of the competition, when France’s Kevin Rolland upset the podium with a 93.33. Kenworthy was left with silver as his first career X Games superpipe medal. Benoit Valentin, also of France, grabbed bronze with a 90.66.
Adding to the emotion of the night was the personal significance for Kenworthy. In October 2015 he came out as gay, becoming the first openly gay action sports star. Kenworthy, 24, had said keeping his sexuality a secret had become an immense mental burden, and he believed it had been negatively affecting his skiing. This was his first X Games competition with the burden lifted, and he was finally able to perform to his own expectations.
When Kenworthy came out, he said he hoped to one day be competing with his boyfriend cheering for him in the crowd. That was another wish that came true; Kenworthy had a contingent of loved ones at the bottom of the halfpipe, all holding a large rainbow flag, and sandwiched in the middle was his boyfriend Matthew Wilkas. This was the first time a male competitor’s boyfriend was shown and identified as such on screen.
“I’m just feeling good this year. I’m just happy. Got a big weight off my shoulders, and oh my god I’m emotional,” Kenworthy said after his second run. “That was honestly the best run I’ve ever done.”
Three days later he was back at it again, this time on the slopestyle course, and the roles were reversed. Kenworthy struggled slightly during his first two runs in snowy conditions, posting identical scores of 81.00 to put him outside the podium. But he was able to perform when it mattered most, scoring a solid 87.33 on his final run to leap into second place. Jossi Wells of New Zealand took gold with a 90.00, and Norway’s Oystein Braaten rounded out the podium with 84.33 to take bronze.
With his second medal, Kenworthy became the first skier to medal in both slopestyle and superpipe at the same X Games event since 2005.
Though still searching for that elusive first X Games title, Kenworthy walks away from Aspen having made history.