13 Oct 2018 23:04Photos: Ian Walton for OIS/IOC
Russia’s Bumblebee became the first Youth Olympic b-boy champion in history at Buenos Aires 2018. He also won a bronze in the mixed-gender 2vs2 event with Austria’s b-girl Ella. For his father, who was a b-boy against the odds in 1990s Russia, the medals were worth more than gold.
Sergei Chernyshev sparked a peaceful revolution in Voronezh, a provincial town 500 kilometres from Moscow, when he started teaching breaking to local kids at the end of the 1990s. Back then, with no opportunity to travel, Chernyshev pored over video cassettes of foreign dancers to study their moves, and later tested them out on the dance floor.
At Buenos Aires 2018, the name of the man from a little-known Russian province was written in the history books of his beloved sport as his son b-boy Bumblebee - whose real name is also Sergei Chernyshev - became the first b-boy gold medallist at an Olympic event.
“To say what this means to me in two words - it’s the meaning of my life,” said the medallist’s father and coach. “I have been waiting for this Olympic debut for a long time.”
Chernyshev had to give up breaking in 2000 when his son was born. Until that point he was teaching close to 200 children, as breaking gained popularity in the city, which has slightly more than 1 million inhabitants.
Bumblebee was enrolled in artistic gymnastics from the age of 4, but despite showing promise in the sport, he quit unexpectedly when he was 8.
It was then that breaking came into his life.
“I was waiting for this,” said his father of the switch. “I was waiting for the moment when he would realise that breaking appeals more to him.”
Chernyshev taught his son all the moves he knew and even helped him to pick out his b-boy name. Bumblebee initially wanted to call himself ‘Optimus Prime’ after a character in the Transformers, but his father deemed the name too mature and suggested ‘Bumblebee’ - the name of a friendly robot from the same franchise - instead.
Nine years later at Buenos Aires 2018, Chernyshev watched his son make history as he won the gold medal in the first ever breaking competition held at an Olympic event.
“It is an honour for me,” Bumblebee said of his milestone victory. “I had the opportunity to win this gold medal and naturally, I couldn’t not use it. After all, this is the first gold medal in breaking.
“For me it was always very important to leave a mark in history and I think that now, whatever happens, I will be a part of history.”
On 11 October, Bumblebee also won a bronze medal in the mixed team event where he competed alongside Austria’s b-girl Ella.
For his father, just being at the groundbreaking competition in Buenos Aires was a dizzying experience. Here Chernyshev met some of the founders that he spent hours studying on video, including now-judges and jury members Crazy Legs, Storm and Renegade.
The sport has come a long way in Russia since Chernyshev first tried it in what the Russians colloquially refer to as the “wild 90s,” a time of political and economic turmoil. Curiously, it was precisely these challenging times that helped the sport to grow.
“It was fashionable on every street then because a b-boy was, first of all, seen not as a dancer, but as an athlete,” Chernyshev said. “That was very relevant, especially in the 90s in Russia. You could make a name for yourself not only with your fists, but with your talents as well.”
Now having witnessed the debut of his favourite sport at a Youth Olympic Games, Chernyshev hopes it will make it into the senior programme at Paris 2024. For his part, Bumblebee was thankful to be able to give his father that first taste of Olympic glory.
“My parents opened their own dance studio when I was 9 years old. I went there and I fell headfirst into it,” Bumblebee said. “And nine years later, I won the Youth Olympics. This is, first of all, my gift to my father because he used to do this as well so he can fully feel what this means.
“The most important thing in a victory is to have someone to share it with.”