SANTIAGO, Chile — Winning the first Pan American Games gold medal awarded in men's breaking meant a lot to Philip Kim, but the Olympic berth he also gained meant even more.
The 26-year-old from Vancouver, known as B-Boy Phil Wizard in break dancing circles, defeated Jeff (B-Boy Jeffro) Louis of the United States 3-0 in Saturday's final men's battle.
"Honestly, the Olympic place means more to me. I want to be there. I want to be part of history," Kim said. "I'm relieved more than anything.
"In the last year I can say it's been a roller-coaster ride, but I've grown so much as a person as well as an artist and an athlete because of the process we've had to go through. It's pushed me in ways that I've never been pushed before and I'm very grateful for that."
Breaking made its Pan Am Games debut in Santiago, Chile. The sport will also be an Olympic event for the first time in Paris next year, but isn't on the program for Los Angeles in 2028.
Kim won the 2022 men's world breaking championship. He placed second this year when he was beaten in the final battle by Victor Montalvo of the United States for both the world title and Olympic qualification.
Kim said he just needed to make Saturday's final in Santiago to get a Paris berth because two U.S. men couldn't get direct Olympic quotas in breaking.
"Going into the final, I'd already secured my spot, but it honestly gave me more of a push because it would have been bittersweet to secure my spot to Paris and then lose the battle," Kim said.
Breakers are scored on musicality, vocabulary, originality, technique and execution.
Athletes don't know in advance the music they will perform to, but must express the music in their moves when they hear it through footwork, freezes, transitions, power moves, tricks and flips.
Before travelling to Chile, Kim finished second to South Korea's Kim Hong-Yul (Hong 10) at Red Bull's world final at Roland-Garros in Paris.
Kim didn't did lose a battle in Santiago en route to the title, however.
Dressed in white with a red tuque on his head, Kim earned a score of 8-1 from the judges on his first throw down and scored 6-3, 6-3 in the next two against Louis on Saturday.
"The way I approach breaking has always been originality and creativity first because that's just what I enjoy doing," Kim said. "I like to create new movement. I like to showcase something new and I think I presented that today as well.
"Of course I want to win, but first and foremost, it's also about showing breaking to the world. That's why I want to go to the Olympics. I want more kids to be involved, more people to see this because this is what I spent my life doing."
The nine international judges, who go by single names such as Katsu, Bojin, Kid Glyde and Kujo, warmed up the crowd with their own breaking session before their introductions.
The packed Chimkowe Cultural Center was bedlam after the men's bronze-medal battle won by Chile's Matias (B-Boy Matita) Martinez.
Breaking in an international multi-sport Games for the first time felt novel to Kim.
"It's definitely a different experience being in a village surrounded by high-performing people, like it was a lot of fun for me," he said. "You get to meet a lot of different athletes, you get to see people training a little bit, you get to see what people's daily routines are, you get to connect with different people."
Kim injured his neck warming up for Friday's preliminary round and said he barely slept the night before Saturday's elimination battles.
"Right away Team Canada gave me a therapist," Kim said. "(They) helped me through yesterday and today."
Toronto's Tiffany (B-Girl Tiff) Leung lost her bronze-medal battle 3-0 to Vicki (B-Girl La Vix) Chang of the United States.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press