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Cloudy future became rainbow for US skier

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

LOS ANGELES -- The big surprise came moments after his final jump, after Gus Kenworthy nailed a difficult maneuver to grab the lead at a slopestyle competition in the Colorado mountains.

Skiing to the bottom of the course, he noticed flashes of purple, blue and orange in the crowd.

"Amazing," he says.

It was the winter of 2015 and Kenworthy had just come out as a gay man. He wasn't the first pro athlete to make this sort of announcement, following the lead of NBA center Jason Collins, soccer standout Robbie Rogers and college football player Michael Sam.

Still, it was a tough decision.

"I had built myself up for the worst-case scenario," he recalls. "I was literally scared I was going to lose sponsors, lose my fan base and stop getting invited to events."

The freestyle skier quickly discovered the climate has shifted for gays in sports. His first clue? Those fans at the Dew Tour event in Breckenridge who waited at the base of the hill, waving rainbow flags.

"It's just so crazy," he says. "I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I got."

Teammates and competitors rallied around him. So did corporations such as Visa, Toyota and Procter & Gamble, stepping forward with endorsement deals heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

If anything, coming out made Kenworthy more popular -- and marketable.

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