Sunny Choi Is Going to the Olympics!

March 17, 2024

This summer, breaking will make its Olympic debut at the 2024 Paris games, and b-girl Sunny Choi is ready to make history. In fact, she already did! This past October, Choi became the first American woman to qualify for the games after winning the gold medal at the Pan American Games.

Choi spent her adolescence as a gymnast with Olympic aspirations, but knee injuries forced her to quit the sport at just 18 years old. Shortly thereafter, as a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she discovered some breakers dancing on campus who invited her to take class with them. She took them up on the offer and has been dancing ever since. “It started organically with going to practice where someone would teach me what I was observing,” she says. “Once I knew the first few basic steps, I would go and figure it out on my own after that. It was a lot of observing, experimenting, and pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone.” 

Photo by Little Shao, courtesy Choi.

Leaving that comfort zone was a major challenge for Choi initially. “With gymnastics, I would repeat what I was taught to do over and over again until I got it perfect,” she says. “In breaking, you let mistakes happen, and you own them. I hated that I didn’t know how to be creative in those circumstances. I used to sit in the corner and watch and not participate.” Ultimately, though, Choi didn’t want to be defeated by her fears. She chose to overcome the obstacles that were holding her back and jump into dancing with both feet. Choi’s first exposure to breaking was in 2007, and just a couple of years later she attended her first local competition. By 2015 her talent and confidence had grown exponentially, and she was making a name for herself on the international breakdance competition circuit. 

Simultaneous to developing her dance talent, Choi began working corporate jobs and, most recently, was the director of global creative operations at Estée Lauder. “Dancing was a part-time hobby for me until 2023,” Choi says. “It wasn’t until this Olympic pathway presented itself that I felt like I could make a living off of it,” she says. In fact, it took Choi a long time to decide that she even wanted to pursue the Olympic games. “I knew I would have to quit my job and give up everything I had worked for to do it.” In 2021, shortly after breaking was approved for the 2024 Paris Olympics, all of the dancers surrounding Choi began talking about their aspirations to participate. “Everyone was dead set on doing it, but all I could think about were the sacrifices I’d have to make,” she says. “But over time I began to realize that it was actually just my fear of failure that was holding me back. I was standing in my own way.” So, instead of dwelling on the things that would make an Olympic run difficult, Choi became determined to succeed. “It was just like those early days of break dancing where I would stand paralyzed in the corner,” she says. “I couldn’t do that to myself again. I had to try.”  In January 2024 she quit her job and started breaking full-time, and by November 2023 she was officially an Olympian. 

Here she talks about her journey to the Olympics, her goals for the games, and her advice for dancers with career aspirations like hers. 

Her Olympics training regimen “The first thing I did was find a strength and conditioning coach, as well as a therapist who focuses on sports psychology. I also worked out a schedule that allowed me to balance both training and the other obligations I have. My training time was split 50/50 between dance and the gym, followed by hours of recovery work and yoga. Beyond that, I was traveling to various competitions each week. It was a lot.”

On qualifying for the Olympics “There are a total of 16 men and 16 women who qualify. Five of those are winners of their respective continental games, one of them won the world championships this year, and 10 will have qualified through trials in May 2024.

You qualify based off of a world ranking, and that number comes from a point system from the Olympic circuit of events. None of those events were hosted in the U.S. One was in Canada, maybe two were held in South America, and the rest were in Europe and Asia. It was grueling for us to travel, but we had to try to get the points. I ultimately won my spot at the Pan American Games [the continental games for the Americas] but my world ranking also would have earned me a spot.”

Sunny Choi battling at a Red Bull BC One Competition. Courtesy Red Bull.

On how it felt to become an Olympian “Weirdly, the initial feeling wasn’t excitement, it was just relief. I qualified. I did it. I’m halfway there. It still feels so far away, but I’m relieved I am guaranteed a spot, and now I just have to do what I do.” 

Her goals for the games “I want to have fun and be me. Sure, winning would be nice, but I would feel better about being both present and happy with the way that I danced or showcased myself to the world than coming home with a medal but not having enjoyed it.” 

Her advice for other breakers with Olympic dreams “Everyone has a different starting point, but at the end of the day it’s about looking at yourself and being honest. What do you want, and why do you want it? Be honest about what the sacrifices are, and if you are willing to make them. Then, just trust your gut and go for it. It’s scary, but that’s what makes it so much more rewarding.”