Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, a two-time Olympian who has represented Team USA, announced Tuesday that he plans to compete for Great Britain’s team in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing to honor his “#1 fan” — his mother.
Kenworthy, 28, said on Instagram that he was raised in the U.S. but born in the U.K. — and his mother is “British through-and-through.”
“She has been my #1 fan for my entire life and has proudly stood at the bottom of the mountain waving the stars and stripes in support of me for two Olympic cycles,” Kenworthy said. “Now, in what is sure to be my last Olympic appearance, I’d like to return the honor by proudly holding up the British flag for her.”
Kenworthy said in a statement for GB Snowsport, the national governing body for snow sports in the UK, that his mother is the reason that he competes today; she taught him to ski when he was three years old.
The International Ski Federation approved Kenworthy’s application to compete for Britain’s team on Tuesday, according to GB Snowsport.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard also approved Kenworthy’s switch. Tiger Shaw, president and CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard, said in a statement emailed to TIME that the organization “fully supports” Kenworthy’s decision and that he was an “amazing role model and inspiration athlete to snowsports fans worldwide.”
“Our coaches and staff wish him the best and will always support him as an athlete no matter which flag he competes under,” Shaw said.
Kenworthy will still have to qualify for Britain’s team. Vicky Gosling, CEO of GB Snowsport, noted in a statement that “Gus understands that we have an incredibly talented squad and that means places are competitive.” But, she added: “The inclusion of Gus in our squad can only raise our level of performance and make us even more competitive.”
Kenworthy told NBC Sports that changing his team could make it easier to qualify for the upcoming games. It would give him “an advantage in terms of qualifying and having less to worry about, less people I’m up against, just being able to focus on the tricks that I want to be working on, the runs that I want to do, put me in the best position to hopefully get another medal and not have to kill my body trying to qualify in multiple disciplines right before the Games against the U.S. guys,” he said.
Kenworthy won a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He and figure skater Adam Rippon made history as the first openly gay athletes to compete at the Winter Olympics. His appearance at the 2018 games in South Korea was considered an important victory for the LGBT community.
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