Breaking: the stuff other Olympic sports wish they had

BUDAPEST — Nine years ago in Vancouver, Yuna Kim performed the most ethereal, languid, beautiful free skate imaginable. To George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, she seemed to float above the ice, an artist gracefully expressing herself physically the way the greatest of the great painters, sculptors, architects and others have revealed their genius in art that moves the soul.

Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you breakdancing, or in Olympic jargon, breaking, the Summer Games heir to the very thing Yuna Kim did so elegantly at the Winter Games, on full display here Friday and Saturday at these inaugural World Urban Games, bound for the global spotlight at the Paris 2024 Olympics and, yo, feel the jam and appreciate that this is sport and art, too. 

Yuna Kim danced. It was just on ice.

What do you think this is?

Get over yourself if you don’t think otherwise.

B-boy Menno of the Netherlands, who took WUG silver, performs while emcee Amjad, in the purple jacket, rocks the house

B-boy Menno of the Netherlands, who took WUG silver, performs while emcee Amjad, in the purple jacket, rocks the house

This very first edition of WUG — a combo sport, art, music and street culture festival — rocked Saturday. By mid-afternoon, the fields surrounding the Great Market Hall on Budapest’s south side were so jammed that officials had taken to urging everyone who wanted to come to take public transit — please, no more cars ‘cuz there wasn’t any more parking. Nice problem to have for a brand-new event, right?

And why were they here? For the late-night music, sure, featuring the local band Cloud9+ followed by the English electronic music duo Chase & Status. And before that, the men’s speed parkour final — won by 18-year-old Matej Srovnal of the Czech Republic in 21.92 seconds before an SRO crowd. Or the BMX freestyle qualification, which raged all afternoon before packed stands under brilliant sunshine. 

To be blunt, though, there was breaking. 

To be blunter still, this is the sport that has the stuff many Olympic sports wish they had. 

This event drew the world’s best breakers, the 16 best b-boys and 16 best b-girls.

Get, too, with the lingo, please. If you can hang with axels and salchows at the ice arena, you can ride here. 

Breaking was the breakout hit of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires; that’s what prompted its all-but-certain fast-track entry to Paris in 2024. Traditionalists may moan and cry. The International Olympic Committee has noted such out-of-touch opposition. Moving along: the IOC is after the key teen and 20-something demographic, and it is breaking that drew big crowds to Friday’s prelims and again to Saturday’s finals at the graffiti-marked Great Hall. 

Just to qualify as one of the 16 b-boys or 16 b-girls was itself a thing; 24 breakers made it here from the 2019 World DanceSport Breaking Championships in June in Nanjing, China; six others advanced from what was called the Outbreak Europe event in Slovakia in July; host Hungary was allocated the final two slots. 

As in ice skating, there is music. Yuna Kim had Gershwin in 2010. Here? The DJs Fleg and Southscream along with the drum and bass stylings of The Kinkies. Your emcees? Amjad (him, on Saturday rocking a ’90’s-era purple-and-orange Phoenix Suns Starter jacket) and Rambo (her).

Friday’s prelims involved six hours — six hours, people — of dancing for judges Katsu1, Moy and Hurricane. Again, get with the program. This is how it is. Everyone has a stage persona. Over the hours, the athletes performed one-on-one dance-offs, or battles, each showing off artistic, athletic and creative skills. 

For every snarl, diss and rude or impolitic gesture you’ve ever seen at any Olympic-style event — breaking couldn’t be more the opposite. Yes, these are “battles.” But breaking 100 percent exemplifies the core Olympic values of respect, excellence and friendship, with one athlete typically vibing and grooving to the other’s moves and the music; big smiles at a particularly excellent move; handshakes and hugs afterward; and, moreover, huge audience involvement. The crowd is into it, with roaring and enthusiastic shouting and applause. Six hours of being into it on Friday, and Saturday’s action, which started just before 6 and ended after 8 p.m., proved similarly raucous. 

It’s little wonder — zero, actually — why the IOC is onboard. Breaking is the real deal.

Beyond which, on Saturday afternoon, before the knockout block got underway, the mats were filled with little kids spinning, twisting, rolling, somersaulting and dancing with unabashed joy. 

People! This is the entire point of WUG and, to be blunt, the entire Olympic movement. If you’re the IOC, you have to be saying — more, more, more, exactly more of this. 

Friday’s action sent eight b-boys and b-girls on to Saturday. 

B-girls making the cut: Ami (Japan), Ayane (Japan), Kate (Ukraine), Logistx (USA), Queen Mary (Bulgaria), San Andrea (France), Sarah Bee (France), Sunny (USA).

Ami is the current world champion, Sunny the runner-up.

B-boys into Saturday’s competition: Bumblebee (Russia), Icey Ives (USA), Lussy Sky (Ukraine), Menno (Netherlands), Phil Wizard (Canada), Shigekix (Japan), Vero (South Korea), Victor (USA).

Menno is world champ; Bumblebee the 2018 Youth Games gold medalist; Shigekix the YOG bronze medalist.

On the women’s side, Ami would again take gold here, with the two Americans going 2-3, Sunny and Logistx. Logistx, 16, was the youngest female in the competition.

In the men’s draw, Bumblebee got third, Menno second. Victor won gold.

Constructive criticism: no one understands the scoring. Before this gets to the Olympic spotlight, that absolutely has to be fixed. Otherwise, no. Just no. 

The rest is great — let’s go by the rules of family journalism here — stuff.

To the sportsmanship thing: Ami and Sunny were all smiles and hugs when they finished. Menno applauded for Victor.

Victor, who while The Star-Spangled Banner was playing for his victory closed his eyes in delight and gratification, has a real name. He’s Victor Montalvo, 25, of Kissimmee, Fla. 

“Amazing,” he said afterward. “I wanted to stay confident and persevere.”

Look at that. The breakers already have the most cliché of Olympic clichés down pat. Welcome to the show.