There will be breaking news at the Olympics – about the breakup

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When Philip Kim first saw break dancers perform in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, he thought it looked super cool and learning how to do it might also be useful.

“I thought it might impress the girls,” Kim says, recalling her young teenage years. “But it’s a very male-dominated sport, so it hasn’t really worked. It’s mostly sweaty guys.

Break dancing may be what took Kim, a 25-year-old known internationally as Phil Wizard, to the Olympics.

Yes really. Not only is breakdancing still a thing, it’s the latest youthful, seemingly gravity-defying sport to be included on the Olympic schedule. And forget the dance part, it’s just called breaking now and the athletes are b-boys and b-girls.

Kim is Canada’s top-ranked b-boy, with multiple world titles, and he should be a strong contender at the sport’s Olympic debut in Paris in 2024.

“He’s dope,” says Toronto’s Tiffany Leung, an artificial intelligence consultant for Deloitte when not competing as b-girl Tiff. “He’s a full-time breaker. It helps shine the spotlight on Canada.

“The thing about Canadian Breakers is that we all appreciate originality and creativity, I think he’s very Canadian in that way.”

Both Kim and Leung are in Birmingham, Alabama this weekend to compete in the World Games, a multi-sport marquee extravaganza.

For years, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has been pushing for the addition of new freestyle and action sports, such as snowboarding, surfing, skateboarding, BMX and rock climbing. Bach is looking to attract younger audiences and the new sponsors and broadcast dollars that come with it.

Olympic status has raised the profile of breaking, which typically has its roots in New York City streets and 1970s hip-hop culture.

“Breaking had this childish reputation of dancing on cardboard,” says Leung. “So I’m really excited for breaking to get this global stage to be able to show the world what this art is, but also how athletic it is.”

As she said, she was literally catching her breath after taking part in the Rock Harder: Battle for the North event in Toronto last Friday.

And in the ballroom of a downtown Toronto hotel, it was easy to see why the IOC cares about the sport: it doesn’t require an expensive or specialized venue, the competition is short, energetic and easy to broadcast, and the athletes are young and look like they’re having fun.

The one-on-one battle, considered the sport’s highest form, features two athletes taking alternating rounds of approximately 30 to 45 seconds to launch their moves in a series of sets. A panel of judges decides the winner based on criteria ranging from technique and difficulty to creativity and musicality.

The music is live – played by DJs who mix breaks and beats – and the public is encouraged to crowd around the dance floor.

The informal dress code is loose pants, oversized t-shirts and hoodies, plus a few brightly colored nylon tracksuits that those outside of the breaking world might have thought they were. went out of fashion decades ago.

Both b-boys and b-girls enjoy originality in these unscripted routines, but there are common elements of dance footwork, floor drops, pirouettes, flares and freezes, where they hold a staggered headstand or other difficult position. In some movements the athletes have several body parts on the ground, in others not at all because they are moving in a way that does not seem entirely possible or safe.

When the breakup reaches a large TV audience during the Olympics, there’s sure to be a little controversy with at least some people wondering if it should be at the Olympics. Or, if it’s in, what’s next on Earth? But, without a doubt, an art like this requires incredible athleticism.

When Kim talks about his love of the sport and why he left college to pursue a full-time career competing, performing and teaching breaking, he begins with what he calls the simple answer: “It’s is super fun.”

A minute later, he is in the sport’s deeper attraction to him. “It challenges me physically and mentally. You know, I do this pretty much every day, five or six times a week. And every day I train for about three to five hours and my body is dead by the end of the day. It’s very physically demanding.

“One of the nicest things to me about breaking is that it encompasses almost every move. There are no set rules like, you have to hit this in a routine or you have to do it; you can do it. what you want.”

But, as has happened with other style-demanding sports like snowboarding, competing in the Olympics has multiplied opportunities and raised both expectations and the level of competition.

“I used to do a lot of the same moves, I never really pushed myself because I was like, ‘Oh, I’m fine,'” Leung said. “But now with the Olympics, I’m really going to push and, even if I don’t make it to the Olympics, training for it pushes me to another level.”

Leung’s big competitor in Canada is Emma Misak, who won a silver medal when the sport debuted at the Youth Olympics in 2018.

Getting to the big show in Paris won’t be easy for anyone – only 16 men and 16 women from around the world will be vying for the sport’s first Olympic medals. Regardless of who wins those medals, the Olympics are already helping the breakers by encouraging more participants, increasing respect for the sport and raising awareness among the grassroots audience, Reyes says.

And that could mean fewer awkward conversations for Kim.

“If people ask me what I’m doing, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m taking a full-time break.’ They’re like, what? It’s still there? I thought it died in the 90s,” he says. “People don’t know it’s booming and it’s bigger than ever, so more eyes on him (at the Olympics) are definitely a good thing.”

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