KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Yeah, like a 22-year-old Olympic athlete with broad shoulders and a silver medal hanging from his neck needs any help finding a woman to be his valentine. But, for his next trick, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy will make all of America swoon. How? He's returning to Colorado with stray puppies rescued during the Winter Games.
"A lot of girls like Olympians and puppies," Kenworthy said Thursday, when he earned a spot on the podium in ski slopestyle, displayed a heart as big as the Rocky Mountains and became America's most eligible bachelor. All in one day.
Not bad work, if you can get it.
This is the power of puppy love: Kenworthy has been bombarded by admirers on social media since the Denver resident posted photos of four mutts he discovered abandoned in the frosty alpine air of Russia with their mother.
Remember when the baggy pants of snowboarders cast a long shadow as the hippest thing on snow? Well, Shaun White is yesterday's news. Skiers are back, catching big air and grabbing the feel-good headlines of these Winter Games.
With a little help from his friends Joss Christensen and Nicholas Goepper, Kenworthy led a mind-bending, high-flying, triple-rotating American sweep of the medals. It was a storybook Olympic debut for ski slopestyle, a made-for-television thrill ride that is 33 percent snow, 33 percent Cirque du Soleil and 33 percent pure adrenaline.
As a nation of winners, the United States stands up to cheer a champion. But, in a nation of dog lovers, Kenworthy seems destined to become an Olympic folk hero.
Know what's so crazy it has to be true? The puppies were Kenworthy's secret weapon in this competition. "They took away a lot of stress for me," he admitted.
Dogs don't give a woof. They're too busy chewing on your shoe to worry about anything. And puppy kisses kill all anxiety on contact.
Everything about the Olympics, from the fireworks at the opening ceremony to the outrageously goofy costumes of fans, is over the top. Kenworthy, however, made a real difference in the little corner of Russia he has called home this month with a small act of kindness. He adopted animals in distress, arranging for vaccines and transportation back to the Rocky Mountains. He intends to keep one of the cute pups for himself and find good homes for the rest of the litter.
An ugly byproduct of moving dirt by the ton and leveling homes during a $50 billion project to build Olympic venues and a small new city to support the Games was an abandoned dog population that roams from Sochi to the mountains. The stray canines can be found everywhere, from the rocky beaches of the Black Sea to the courtyard of my hotel complex, where the same friendly male dog welcomes me with a wagging tail as I return from watching hockey or speedskating at 2 a.m.
I call him Putin. He likes pretzels.
A boy's best friend can change the way a man looks at the world. At age 11, Kenworthy received a dog as a gift for his birthday. Got him from an animal shelter. Called him Mack.
"My dog passed away a year ago," said Kenworthy, who graduated from Telluride High School. So there has been something missing in the skier's life. He had to travel to Russia to find it.
During training for the Games, a friend called Kenworthy and said: "Dude, you have to see these puppies."
Kenworthy was tired and sore from a tough day of practice. But he put on his gloves, hopped a gondola down the mountainside and checked the spot where a new mother had found shelter for her litter under a security tent in town. All it took was just one look.
"Yeah," Kenworthy said, "I just fell in love with the puppies."
Kenworthy arrived at the Winter Olympics with dreams of a medal.
He found love.
"Dude," Kenworthy told a buddy on the eve of the slopestyle competition, "I just want to leave Russia with a medal and some puppies."