American freeskier Gus Kenworthy failed to return to the podium during his second Olympic games, but he did kiss his boyfriend on national TV.
The out athlete garnered acclaim four years ago after winning a silver medal as part of an American sweep in men’s ski slopestyle. Then he made history the following year coming out to ESPN. After he secured a place on the U.S. team again, he hoped to be the first action sports star to medal at an Olympics.
But the jump section of the PyeongChang slopestyle course confounded Kenworthy in finals. He actually had a better time of the course earlier in the day during qualifiers, posting a 90.80.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 18, 2018
In the medal round, his best score was just a 35 posted in his first run. Even there, he washed out on his final landing. As he finished his final attempt at the course, Kenworthy shrugged at the cameras, knowing he would leave Korea without a souvenir around his neck.
Ultimately, the gold in slopestyle went to Norway’s Oystein Braaten, who scored a 95. Team USA’s Nick Goepper, who won bronze four years ago as part of the American sweep, took silver this year with a 93.6. Canada’s Alex Beaulieu-Marchand won bronze with a score of 92.4.
Of note, Kenworthy injured himself in practice this week, breaking his thumb a couple days before competition, At the time he joked that he at least would not have to ever shake the hand of Vice President Mike Pence.
That said, Kenworthy did make a different kind of history with a public display of affection with boyfriend Matt Wilkas. During the qualifying rounds, NBC broadcast images of Kenworthy kissing Wilkas before his run, as noted by LGBT sports groups around the world.
Wow, what a moment! @guskenworthy shares a kiss with his boyfriend at #Olympics2018. This visibility matters. This moment of affection gives hope and inspiration to LGBTQ people everywhere. pic.twitter.com/FcDd8RcLdh
— Athlete Ally (@AthleteAlly) February 18, 2018
The Gayby actor flew to Korea to support Kenworthy.
My Seoul mate! So happy to have my bf, my family and some amazing friends here in Korea to cheer me on! Tomorrow's the big day (tonight for y'all in the US) and win or lose I just wanna thank you all SO much for your support and encouragement. I wouldn't be here without you. pic.twitter.com/XwqWKldwbN
— Gus Kenworthy (@guskenworthy) February 17, 2018
NBC also openly acknowledged Wilkas as Kenworthy’s boyfriend, and panned multiple times during its broadcast to Kenworthy’s mother being surrounded by rainbow flags. While much has been made of Kenworthy being the first gay male action sports star at an Olympics, coverage of the finals appears to be the first time a major American network has shown a kiss between an out male athlete and another man during live coverage of the Olympics.
The broadcast of a gay Olympian kissing his romantic partner marks a major change for NBC. The network just two years ago covered swimmer Tom Daley’s medal run at the Olympics with barely a mention of his sexuality, despite Daley’s boyfriend Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, being present at the games in Rio.
This year marks the first time out gay men have represented the United States at the games. Earlier this week, Kenworthy and Wilkas cheered on American figure skater Adam Rippon waving a rainbow-striped American flag Wilkas purchased in West Hollywood.
Kenworthy, who spoke to The Advocate for a cover story in advance of the Olympics, noted that coming out did not hurt his professional skiing career on the slopes or at the bank. He had his best season of his career up to that point the year he came out, and endorsement deals increased as sponsors sought out ways to showcase diversity.
He had hoped to leave the games an Olympic champion. “I didn’t want to come out and for people to be like, ‘Oh, he competes in the sport and he does OK,’” he said. “I want to be the guy that’s taking names, on the podium, and winning events.”