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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Korean Americans dream for gold in dance and swimming at 2024 Olympics

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With just over three weeks remaining until the opening of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, two Korean-American athletes have been named to the U.S. national team.

According to multiple sources, including NBC and ESPN, the roaster for Team USA, participating in the 33rd Summer Olympics in Paris from July 26 to August 11, has been announced. The formidable team includes nearly 600 athletes, among them Audrey Kwon (18, artistic swimming) and Sunny Choi (35, breaking), both of Korean descent.

Breaking, widely known as “B-Boying,” will make its Olympic debut, and Sunny Choi has an unconventional background that stands out. A Tennessee native, Choi never pursued a career as a professional dancer or athlete. She was a brilliant student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. During her freshman year, she joined a breaking dance club by chance and began dancing as a hobby.


Sunny Choi, left, and Audrey Kwon


Choi later rose to the position of Global Creative Operations Director at Estée Lauder. Upon learning that breaking would become an official Olympic sport, she left her job to fully commit to Olympic preparation.

In an interview with a media outlet, Choi stated that she had to choose between maintaining a stable life and taking a leap into something new that would bring her much more happiness. Her dedication paid off when she won the U.S. finals of the prestigious dance competition Red Bull BC One in 2022 and secured a gold medal and Olympic berth at the inaugural breaking event at the Pan American Games last year. This achievement marked the culmination of a passion that began 15 years ago.

Choi is the oldest member of the team. Her participation as a Korean-American in the first official Olympic breaking event is particularly significant.

Eighteen-year-old Audrey Kwon, a Korean-American from Los Angeles, is the youngest member of the artistic swimming team, alongside her peer Megumi Field. Despite her young age, Kwon’s skills are exceptional. She began her athletic journey at the age of eight and was selected for the U.S. junior national team in artistic swimming in 2018. In 2020, she placed first in the Y position at the UANA Virtual Challenge and has consistently performed at a podium level for the past four years.

Most recently, Kwon represented the U.S. at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar, this February, earning a bronze medal and a spot in the Paris Olympics. Born in Seoul, Kwon moved to Seattle with her parents at the age of two and later settled in Los Angeles. Before joining the U.S. national team, she competed with the La Mirada Aquabelles.

In contrast to Kwon and Choi, another Korean-American athlete, Yul Moldauer, did not make the cut for the Paris Olympics. Moldauer, who competed in gymnastics at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, was born in Seoul and adopted by an American family at one year old. He failed to qualify at the national team trials held in Minneapolis on June 29.

It’s also noteworthy that no Korean-American athletes were selected for the U.S. Taekwondo team, a sport where Korea is the traditional powerhouse. The U.S. Taekwondo team will feature four athletes from diverse backgrounds, two more than in the Tokyo Olympics.

The upcoming Paris Olympics will see participation from 206 countries with 10,500 athletes competing in 32 sports across 329 events. The Games will introduce four new sports: breaking, surfing, skateboarding, and sport climbing, adding to the excitement. The organizers plan to utilize cultural heritage sites extensively, including holding equestrian events at the Palace of Versailles. Korea, having failed to qualify for team sports like soccer and volleyball, is expected to send its smallest delegation since the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics.

BY KYEONGJUN KIM, YOUNGNAM KIM [kim.kyeongjun1@koreadaily.com]