U.S. Olympic skier Kenworthy finds canine connection in Russia

SOCHI, Russia -- Of all the places in the cold and hardened world, what were the odds this one -- where stray dogs have allegedly been put down in the name of presenting a clean image -- would be the spot where puppy love flourished on Valentine's Day?

It could be a great kids movie. Dudely American skier wins an Olympic silver medal, adopts a mother dog and her four puppies and brings them home to live out their days without fear.

With one heartwarming tweet earlier this week from the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana, where he was competing in the slopestyle skiing event, Gus Kenworthy practically melted all the snow from the region's vast peaks, and the runoff could be felt all the way to Olympic Park and the Black Sea.

"puppy love is real to puppies," Mr. Kenworthy said from his handle, @guskenworthy, and of course he included a photo of him with the dogs.

Before he even won a medal, he instantly became the hero of these Olympics, which have been largely devoid so far of great athletic exploits from the American contingent.

Mr. Kenworthy, a 22-year-old Denver native, noticed the furry family near a security tent in the mountains. He began stopping by to feed and play with the dogs and became attached. Soon, he tweeted he is in the process of getting them vaccinated so he can bring them back to America.

"They're the cutest things ever," Mr. Kenworthy told reporters. "I've been a dog lover my whole life, and to find the cutest family of strays ever here at the Olympics was just a fairy-tale way to have it go down."

It was all too perfect, because Mr. Kenworthy's childhood pet, a mixed breed named Mac, died last year. He said he intends to keep one of the puppies for himself and find good homes for the others. Has he thought of a name?

"Dude," Mr. Kenworthy said, "I don't have them yet. I can't name them until I've got them."

Sochi's stray dogs have been one of the most highly publicized stories of the games, and the idea that the Russians were actively rounding them up for elimination has not gone over well with the rest of the world, particularly the United States.

The reports of an abundance of strays have not been exaggerated. Away from Olympic Park, there is rarely a time when at least one stray is not within eyesight. Mostly they move in small packs, as if inherently knowing that there's strength in numbers. It does not make Sochi look like a civilized place, but then again, neither does the execution of innocent dogs.

Still, the Olympic spirit has remained strong in Sochi, even though Russia's political message this last year has not been one of inclusion and affection for all. A few moments stick out thus far: A Canadian coach fetching and bringing a ski to a Russian cross country skier so that he could finish the race; Peru's first Winter Olympian, cross country skier Roberto Carcelen, finishing last in his race but being greeted at the finish line by Swiss gold medal winner Dario Cologna, who waited there for 28 minutes to congratulate him; and then Mr. Kenworthy's tweets and the resounding aftermath.

Let's just say he won't have much trouble getting a date, oh, for the rest of his life. On Friday, hundreds of women tweeted at him, asking him if he would be their Valentine.

"You are my new favorite person ever in the history of ever. We should probably get married," one tweet said.

"@guskenworthy and his puppies would make the perfect valentine. #swoon," said another.

Yes, Mr. Kenworthy's dance card will be plenty full. And it sounds as if he'll have at least one new companion to love soon enough.

"A lot of girls love Olympians and puppies," he said, "so it's been kind of overwhelming."

J. Brady McCollough: bmccollough@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough.

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