The sport of breaking is entering uncharted territory.
Breaking, also known as breakdancing, which will debut at the Pan American Games this week in Santiago, Chile, will take its place alongside other Olympic sports at a major Games for the first time.
B-boys and B-girls from across America, including four from Canada, will fight to qualify for the first-ever Olympic breaking competitions next summer in Paris. The men’s and women’s Pan American champions obtain Olympic berths.
Vancouver’s Philip Kim, known as Phil Wizard, is part of a new generation of breakers chasing Olympic gold and showcasing the competitive art form as a high-level international sport. He won a world title last year and qualified for the Pan American Games with gold at the 2023 Pan American Championships in May.
LOOK Kim tells how she fell in love with the sport:
The 26-year-old is hoping to get his first taste of the multi-Games experience as he continues his journey to reach the Olympics.
“I’m very excited to be a part of the debut of the Pan American Games,” Kim told CBC Sports. “It will be kind of a good precursor to the actual Olympics, going there a week before, feeling the atmosphere and meeting other Canadian athletes as well.
Although Kim missed the chance to earn an Olympic berth at this year’s world championships in September by losing in the final, he feels confident of securing it with a historic Pan American title in Santiago.
“After finishing the world championship a couple of weeks ago and last week participating in the Red Bull BC One world final, which is also a very high level competition, I feel pretty confident in my chances of entering the Pan Ams” . Kim said. “I also feel very comfortable and confident on a big stage.”
WATCH Kim finishes second at the Red Bull BC One World Final last month:
Canada’s Pan American breaking team also includes Torontonians Tiffany Leung and Onton See, and Surrey, BC native Emma Misak.
The breaking tournaments in Santiago begin on Friday, with medal battles scheduled for Saturday at the Chimkowe Gymnasium. Live coverage will be available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Sixteen breakers of each gender will compete in one-on-one battles, starting with a round robin before advancing to the top eight and four. Battles will initially consist of two rounds before moving to a three-round format from the first four onwards.
Breakers improvise to music and use a variety of moves to outdo their opponent, and judges determine the winner based on creativity, personality, technique, variety, performativity and musicality.
The four elements of breaking are top rock, bottom rock, power moves, and freeze.
Known as B-girl Tiff, Leung is a former competitive gymnast with a dynamic style that is uniquely hers, something she is excited to display on the international stage.
The 28-year-old is coming off a bout with COVID, which forced her to take a week off, but feels ready to give her best with a focused and balanced approach. Two opponents she has on her radar are American Sunny Choi and Colombian Luma.
“It’s about being able to go all the way, but also maintaining that clarity of movement and having confidence in my mind and focusing on taking my time and just feeling,” Leung said. “I feel like that’s the way I think I could win.”
Leung nearly made it to the podium this year with a fourth-place finish at the Pan American Championships, earning him a spot in Santiago. She also came close at last year’s World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, where she finished fifth.
“I feel like I’ve gotten in my own way in the past, so I really want to see if I can do it when I don’t put all these mental blocks on myself,” Leung said.
See and Misak, who compete as B-boy Onton and B-girl Emma, qualified for the Pan American Games based on the World DanceSport Federation’s world rankings.
Misak, 23, has previous experience competing in a multi-sport event and took home a historic silver medal in 2018 during the sport’s debut at the Youth Olympic Games.
“Since it was a high-pressure environment, I have a better idea of what the Pan American Games will feel like,” Misak said in a statement. “I feel extremely grateful to be able to represent Team Canada in Santiago 2023.
“It’s a great opportunity to be part of the Olympic qualification system and I feel prepared. I’m training the best I can and I know that hard work will pay off.”
But it is Kim who is seen as Canada’s best chance at Olympic gold, with a skillset capable of beating anyone. His decorated resume also includes silver at the 2021 worlds and gold at a Breaking for Gold World Series last May.
WATCH Kim shares her breakup journey:
While the Pan American Games are not the last chance to qualify for Paris 2024, Kim said it would mean a lot to close his ticket this time so he can focus on preparation.
Seven athletes from each gender will qualify through the Olympic Qualifying Series (OQS), scheduled between March and June 2024. Breakers must be in the top 14 in the OQS rankings to compete.
Kim is currently ranked No. 1 in the men’s rankings, while Leung is ranked No. 17 in the women’s rankings. Misak and See are ranked 30th and 57th, respectively.
Breaking’s momentum as an Olympic sport suffered a blow last month when it was left out of the 2028 Games program in Los Angeles, meaning the first Olympic breaking champions could also be the last.
Kim said this will provide even more motivation to put on a show in Paris.
“It was very disappointing for me and the breakdancing community in general to hear, especially because I think people will be impressed to see breaking in Paris next year,” Kim said. “We’re just going to go to Paris driven to showcase breakdancing and show that this is what we do. I’m sure people will fall in love with it.
“I’m hoping that in 2032 breaking will come back. And maybe if I’m not too old and the kids aren’t good enough, maybe I can still do it,” he added, laughing. .