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“Sunny” Choi wins gold at Pan American Games, qualifies for Paris

NEW YORK (AP) – Few people know who Grace Choi is. But every breaking dancer of style probably knows who “Sunny” is.

The American B-girl, as break dancers are known, won on Saturday the first Pan American gold medal for the sport that mixes dancing and acrobatics. She also qualified for the Paris Olympics next year.

“Sunny,” the 7th-best ranked break dancer in the world, beat Colombia’s Luisa Tejada, who is known as “Luma,” by 3-0 in the decider. The scoring is measured in head-to-head contests, which are called battles, between two break dancers.

The 34-year-old Choi told The Associated Press on Friday that getting a good nickname is mandatory for break dancers and part of hip-hop culture.

“People used to tell me somebody had to name me so I could break. I just didn’t get named by somebody. It matches my personality, people known I am funny,” the Cookeville, Tennessee-born break dancer said.

Hers clearly worked with the crowd in Chile, with children and teenagers cheering for the American in every risky spin she took on the dance floor.

“Sany! Sany! Sany!” chanted 13-year-old Paulina Torres, who watched the American perform after being convinced to come by one of her classmates. “I am into skateboarding, but this is so cool. She is an athlete and her name is not Maria, not Claudia. She is Sany.”

Just like the competitors, breaking judges are also known by their stage names; Dom-K, Kid Glyde and Skim were among those grading performances in Chile.

Asked if he knew the real names of any of the judges, technical delegate Max, from Portugal, replied: “No, and they probably don’t know mine.”

Breaking as an Olympic sport is not unanimous among those who love it. Its format is defined by the World DanceSport Federation, an International Olympic Committee-approved body.

Breaking was born in the United States about 50 years ago. Choi and other Americans attending the Olympics will have the pressure of performing in front of a big audience at the historic Place de la Concorde representing where the hip-hop dance comes from.

The Olympic movement is bringing dancing to the games in Paris as an attempt to captivate a younger crowd, but the sport is not in the program for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

Choi and other competitors in Santiago said that doesn’t matter much to them.

“Breaking down doesn’t need the Olympics. It’s a nice thing for us because, again, we have more exposure, opportunity, corporate sponsorships. Stuff like that that we haven’t had before,” the B-girl said. “However, breaking will continue no matter what. Without the Olympics. With the Olympics.”

Canada’s Phillip Kim, better known as B-boy “Phil Wizard,” won the men’s breaking competition at the Pan American Games. He beat American Jeff “Jeffro” Louis 3-0. Kim won the breaking world championship last year and finished as a runner-up in 2023.

Canada’s Tiff competes against Sunny, of the United States in the B-Girls semi-finals breaking competition at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, on Saturday. PHOTO: AP