Authenticity is certainly paying off for Gus Kenworthy.
The 26-year-old freeskier secured a spot on the men’s slopestyle Olympic team Sunday, making him one of two openly gay men competing for the U.S. at the Winter Games for the first time in history. (Figure skater Adam Rippon is the other.)
The news came just two days after Kenworthy was named a brand ambassador for Head & Shoulders shampoo. The company showed the first television commercial from its “Shoulders of Greatness” campaign starring the Olympian on Jan. 19.
Though the ad shows Kenworthy hitting the slopes, it celebrates the history-making aspect of his achievement and his role as an LGBTQ rights advocate above all else. “My shoulders carry more than my country’s pride,” he says in the clip, hoisting a rainbow flag. “They carry my community’s pride, my family’s pride, and pride in myself.”
The significance of appearing before a rainbow flag in a nationally televised ad isn’t lost on the athlete, who said the campaign “resonated” with his journey.
“Before coming out, I was carrying so much pressure that I put on myself,” Kenworthy, who first opened up about his sexuality in a 2015 interview with ESPN magazine after competing at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, a year prior, said in a statement. “It wasn’t until I made the decision to come out that I was able to release that weight off my shoulders and find the confidence to be myself, which allowed me to perform my best.”
John Brownlee, Head & Shoulders’ brand director, praised Kenworthy as a worthy inspiration for athletes and would-be Olympians.
“He has pushed through personal and social barriers to compete at the highest level … and at his personal best,” Brownlee said in a statement. “We are so excited to be on this journey with him at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games, and we know he will inspire others to shoulder their own greatness, no matter what obstacles they face.”
In addition to the commercial, Kenworthy will star in a new Complex video series that “dives deeper into how he’s been able to shoulder the compounding pressures of being a successful athlete” and explores his coming out journey.
No doubt Kenworthy’s accomplishments put him in a unique position when it comes to influencing the global conversation on queer acceptance. Go Gus!