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Breaker Sunny Choi Seeks To Raise Her Sport’s Profile To Olympic Heights

By Todd Kortemeier | May 08, 2023, 10:38 a.m. (ET)

A graphic of Sunny Choi for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Many athletes at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 will share stories of the singular vision they’ve had for themselves since they first gained consciousness that they would be Olympians.
Olympic hopeful Grace “Sunny” Choi wouldn’t be able to say that, but that’s not her fault — her sport has only been on the Olympic program since December 2020.
Breaking, a sport popularly known as breakdancing but known simply as breaking to its fans and practitioners, is the lone new sport on the Paris 2024 program. Choi has been a breaker — or “b-girl” in the community’s parlance — for most of her adult life, having picked up the sport in college. Now 34, Choi has risen to the level of world championships medalist, but the Olympic Games? That was never in the picture.
“My personal reaction to it was like, no way that’s not happening,” said Choi, who lives in New York City. “To me, breaking was too underground, too street to be something that would be performed at an event that was as polished as the Olympics.”
Breaking to Choi was something that filled a void in her life for competition and community. 

Sunny Choi breakdancing at a cypher at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Co. on January 7th, 2023.


Choi had been a gymnast in her youth before injuries forced her retirement. A chance encounter with some breakers while attending the University of Pennsylvania led to her trying the sport and subsequently attending a weekly class where she honed her skills. Breaking scratched the physical itch she missed from gymnastics — “I was back upside down again, which I missed,” she said — and also opened up a new world of creativity, self-expression and friendship that kept her coming back.
“One of my issues early on was that I couldn’t dance in front of people; I was just too shy,” Choi said. “And so I knew that that was that I wanted to overcome. So, you know, kind of doing it through dance, and then learning how to express myself, I’d never really done much creatively in my life.”
In roughly 15 years as a b-girl, Choi has certainly overcome that early stage fright and reached the apex of her sport, winning a silver medal at the 2022 World Games. She’s also competed at breaking’s most prestigious events like the Red Bull BC One World Final, where she advanced to the semifinals in 2022.

Photograph of Team USA Breaking and USA Wrestling. Quote reads "In breaking, you'll see people of all ages, all walks of life, all different skin colors, all different types of fashion and we're all there in this very open and beautiful space".


While Choi — known mononymously as Sunny in competition — was clearly a serious athlete, she says breaking was still essentially a hobby. She still worked full-time while dancing on the side. But when the Olympic news dropped, it changed everything.
“When they announced the Olympics, it took me quite some time, actually, to kind of make up my mind and decide that I was going to go that route, and then even longer to quit my job,” Choi said. “It was January this year where I was like, all right, all or nothing.”
That means a step up in training frequency and intensity in the year-plus to go until Paris. Breaking is serious business. Choi trains with a strength and conditioning coach three times a week, mixing in practice four times per week, as well as yoga sessions and recovery time. That’s vital to keep past injuries from flaring up.
The competition schedule contains two circled events as far as Olympic qualification is concerned. A win at either September’s world championships or the Pan American Games in November means automatic Olympic qualification and one of two of Team USA’s allotted places per gender.
Breaking is a community-focused sport, and battles often take place in small gyms packed with energy. B-boys and b-girls run with crews, their chosen family of breakers that they train and compete with. Breaking as an Olympic dance sport has an inherently different feel, and while Choi believes the community nature of the sport will never go away, there is almost a second track of breakers competing at large international events.
“I feel like over the years since I started dancing, it’s kind of like that competitive aspect has really pushed more and more toward that kind of like sport aspect of breaking,” she said.

Quote graphic of Sunny Choi featuring childhood photos. The quote reads "I'm proud to represent the Asian American community in the sport of breaking."


As breaking prepares for its close-up, Choi is excited to potentially be a part of bringing it to a global audience. One thing she thinks might be lost on people only familiar with breaking from television or movies is the level of creativity and improvisation that goes into a battle. Dancers, for instance, don’t choose what music will be playing while they perform. They don’t have set routines, instead relying on the need of the moment to decide what to do. 

Choi also hopes to show that breaking is a great community to belong to. Coming out of Black American culture in the 1980s, breaking is a diverse sport that absolutely anyone can get into.
“We’ll go to like a local dance event and you’ll see kids there with their parents and then you’ll see people of all ages, all walks of life, all different skin colors, all different, like, types of fashion and we’re all there in this very open and beautiful space,” said Choi. “And I think it’s very unique in that because breaking, there’s no barrier to entry, really. You don’t need money to start dancing.”

Todd Kortemeier

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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