Feature | Breaking

B-Boy sensation Bumblebee on learning from Russian gymnasts and Michael Jordan

The Buenos Aires 2018 YOG gold medallist talks about how his life has changed in the past two years, and how he hopes to make more history at Paris 2024

By Ekaterina Kuznetsova ·

In 2018, breaking star Sergey Chernyshev - better known as 'Bumblebee' - won the first gold medal in men's breaking at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

"It was quite a historical moment," he told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview. "I understood that it could change my life drastically - not in a way that it brings me a lot of money or material goods, but that it will go down in history as the first breaking Games."

After that success, the 20-year-old Russian is determined not to rest on his laurels.

In fact, he's hoping for another first: gold at Paris 2024 where breaking is set to make its full Olympic debut after being named as one of four provisional sports for the programme in June 2019.

Chernyshev said, "It is again about making history, but on a different scale. And I understand that if I manage to do it, the scale would be doubled.

"It would be a double historical event for the athlete, in this case for me. It's a big responsibility and a lot of excitement."

Two years on from his win in Buenos Aires, Olympic Channel caught up with the breaking star to talk about Buenos Aires, the reaction to his win, and what he could learn from Russian artistic gymnastics stars Nikita Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan.

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Olympic Channel: Hi Sergey, how has life been since Buenos Aires? Did winning gold there change your life?

Sergey Chernyshev (Bumblebee): These Games were a significant event for me because it was quite a historical moment. I understood that it could change my life drastically - not in a way that it brings me a lot of money or material goods, but that it will go down in history as the first breaking Games.

For me it was important, in terms of history, joining it with my thing - the hip hop culture. There are many events in sport and it's normal for most athletes. But for us, it was unusual.

It was a big responsibility for me. I felt it very much, I felt a lot of pressure. But everything worked out the way it did. And after that life changed... I don't know how much but probably a lot.

OC: What were the biggest changes?

SC: I wouldn't say that I changed as a person. Certain qualities in me didn't change much. Everything remained the same. My circle of friends has changed... not changed, but rather expanded. For example, I now have a sports group of friends that also gives me some experience in life. They help through life because they are quite experienced and their approach is close to mine.

In my own development, I began to use more of a sports approach. After the Youth Olympic Games, I looked at how athletes do it.

Breaking in general has changed. We have more sports events now. Since the Youth Olympic Games, I now also have a sports schedule, apart from the usual commercial breaking events. And I try to find a balance. I try to find harmony between sports and between commercial events. I manage to do it... I get there and I achieve results in both.

OC: How did it feel when you arrived back to Russia as a champion?

SC: I remember we came back to the airport. We had a ceremony. We were met there and congratulated. There was a huge amount of media with cameras who stopped the athletes after the ceremony. I was the last one to leave. My mother came to meet me and my younger sister who was seven years old then. She also gave interviews while I was giving my interview!

Someone sent me a screenshot with her also on TV and talking about me. She loves the attention and immediately got into it.

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OC: Speaking about the breaking community – what was their reaction to your victory?

SC: The breaking community had very mixed reactions to the Youth Olympic Games. There were those who looked at it negatively and those who were positive about it. But it just takes time. Now basically everyone looks at it positively... let's say they got used to the idea. And in fact, sports events do not look bad. Everything looks good quality.

It means more prize money, more opportunities to earn money and more opportunities to feel good about earning your living in your favourite pastime. I think that's the most important thing - that I'm not affected by anyone, that I do what I love and that I can live well.

OC: Did everyone congratulate you or were there mixed feelings about your victory?

SC: It was a little different in Russia. There were people who congratulated me. Straight after YOG, I went to an event held in Moscow. There were a lot of Russians, probably all Russians. Many approached me saying: 'Hello, Olympic champion.' It was said with some bitterness. Many people probably thought that I would get a big head, even though I only won Youth Olympic Games. And many of them were not really into sports.

And after that they saw the New York Times article. So the whole 'fame' thing started happening and I don't know whether it's envy or they were worried by how much attention I started to get. And only now, I have normalised my relationships with everyone in Russia.

OC: How did your friends react to your victory at the Youth Olympics?

SC: After my victory, my relationships with my friends and close people didn't change. For example, many members of our community were envious. But from my family I felt sincere joy for me and I am grateful for that.

OC: Can you remember any fun moments or stories back when you were at the Youth Olympics?

SC: There is a funny story about our wrestlers. They are all huge guys, by the way. I met them here again in Novogorsk recently. They seemed older than they are, such formidable wrestlers. And here I was. This dancer kid. That's how they treated me. 'Some kind of dancing arrived, why is it even a sport?' And I remember how I came to the dining room on my first day and there were all kinds of different athletes there. And our Russian wrestlers were there and so we started talking...

They asked me something, I asked them if they wrestle. They said: ‘Can’t you tell by looking at our ears?' and they started asking me: 'So what do you do? Dancing?' I said yes, and there were some jokes from them about it. In general, I thought it was absolutely normal. I didn't take any offence because I understand that on their part it was a quite a logical thing to ask.

After the competitions they approached me with respect. And the same situation happened with our (Russian) Olympic Committee. We flew there, everyone looked at breaking, as it was something new. Something like, 'Boys don't dance.' But after the win, when they really saw what it was, it was all completely different. From being at the very bottom I climbed to the top because I became a flagbearer at the Closing Ceremony.

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OC: Do you get recognised more often on the streets?

SC: I am not very much recognised on the streets now because I think the whole excitement has calmed down since two years now. During YOG or straight after that, I was recognised a lot because there was a lot of media coverage.

OC: How do you react to being recognisable? How does it make you feel?

SC: I really like popularity. I think it's OK. You can't think about it as a person becoming arrogant or vain and wanting to see himself everywhere. I've liked seeing myself on TV since I was a kid. It goes hand in hand with my second dream of training to be an actor. But now I'd just like to be an actor! Right now we see a lot of actors without training. And now it's all possible - we have the Internet, some projects on YouTube - you can become popular without training.

So I see two roads for myself. The first is in sports. By 2024, there will be a mass popularisation with more and more people knowing about breaking. If I make it to the Olympic Games, if I win and participate, it will give me a lot more attention than YOG.

The second road is going into the film industry. I find it so interesting and right now, thank God, there seems to be a harmony between the two roads. I have conversations about different projects. And I hope it will work out and that people can see me more on TV. It would be great to combine both.

OC: Tell us about the major transformation that happened to you since 2018? Are you different now?

SC: If you take me in 2018 and now, as a B-Boy, as a dancer - it is two different people. I have raised my level greatly. It didn't happen as ups and downs, but it's been consistent development. If you look at 2018 and 2019, there has been progress. There are achievements and there are results. I have a fundamentally changing approach towards breaking right now. And I think it's going to be even cooler soon, I just need some time.

OC: So what are the main changes in your routines?

SC: I try something new from the general elements, from the technical side of it. But besides that, the approach changes not in this but in the structure of the dance itself. Before I used to do a lot of prepared moves but now I want to fully learn how to improvise, how to be in the moment and to be able to use my arsenal 100 percent.

When you have your preparation with a certain number of elements, that's one thing. But the whole mastery is in how you use them. I am now working on the musical component and developing the improvisational part. This is what I want. My technique skills and execution quality are growing.

OC: A lot of athletes are afraid of change, but you don't seem to be...

SC: It's all happening in waves and before the take-off, you go down a little bit. And I am probably going through such a moment. I'm completely changing my approach and because of that I'm vulnerable. I haven't learned how to use my new approach yet. I can lose some events and competitions right now, but it's cool that it's happening in 2020 because you don't have a lot of competitions and I have time to change the approach and to shine a little later. Everything that I want will happen, just not now, but a little later. But I'm in a good shape.

OC: How did you train during the lockdown?

SC: I realised the quarantine period had both pros and cons. What are the cons? You just feel demotivated because you don't have any short-term goals like when you have a competition and you're going towards it. Everything was postponed to 2021, almost everything was moved. I had a huge number of planned events. All of them got cancelled.

Secondly, you train alone. If you train alone for a couple of weeks - it's OK. But when you train alone for two or three months, it depresses you a little bit. It gets harder.

As for the pros, I think everyone needed a big pause. All events stopped... I mean all the live events, because there were a lot of online ones. I think it was for everyone's benefit. If I speak about myself, I was constantly on the move. But you don't develop yourself when you are going places all the time, you just show the material that you already have. Sometimes you need to stop, to realise that you have the time to rethink something and to sit in the workshop and create something there. That's actually why I have a change of approach now. I just had the time.

Another advantage which I personally experienced, which was a disadvantage for many others, was the fact that I could train. Some people couldn't train in the gym - they trained at home and there is not enough space there. I was going to the studio because it's my father's studio. In the end you get fed up with all of it, of course.

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OC: We were following you on the social media through the quarantine and you had a lot of funny and creative videos...

SC: I just realised that social media is something that you need to do consistently. Before I treated it in a different way - if something came to mind I filmed the idea. If nothing came to my mind I wouldn't post for a month. Right now I just try to schedule it.

OC: So what goals do you set yourself when it comes to social media?

SC: I have a long-term goal, or maybe a medium-term goal, of a million subscribers. I'd like to get a million. I know it's a long way to go... to reach 100 000 subscribers is already a long way.

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OC: Did you bring any changes into your training process since 2018 or has it remained the same?

SC: The process of training changes regularly, not since 2018. Probably every month. Because if you do something constantly with the same approach, the development stops. For someone reading this, it doesn't matter if they do sports or dancing or art or singing... Change your approach, it's a must. You need to look at everything in different ways.

Things like quarantine changes your approach, they change your consciousness because you have different training conditions. Things like injuries are not a reason to get sad or upset. It is an opportunity to develop. When my leg is injured, I can't do any spins or power moves where I use my legs a lot. Fine, then I do completely different things, the ones I never usually have time for. And it might sound strange, but the injuries have helped me in that way. Not that I want to get injured, of course. But I'm just extracting something useful from it. Honestly, I should touch wood as in these two years I haven't encountered any injuries.

OC: Did you get inspired by anything during quarantine? What was it?

SC: One example I can give is the series 'The Last Dance' about Michael Jordan. I am not particularly into basketball but I thought: 'OK, everyone watched it, let me also check it out.' It's a documentary and everyone knows the story of Michael Jordan. There are lots of cool things you can take from it that motivate you a lot. You take certain lessons from it - how a person develops in sports, works for his purpose, works on his mental and physical characteristics, as well as his image. Very cool series with amazing hip hop soundtracks. So it motivated me a lot.

OC: What do you consider your biggest achievement in the two years since your Buenos Aires victory?

SC: I didn't stop after YOG. One guy recently messaged me: 'I thought after the Olympics you would go down. Because that hype started and it would make you already satisfied with what you have and that's it.' But then he said: 'I'm watching you now and I realise you're still rocking it.' This was said to me by someone in the comments. But actually a lot of people say this because they see that I'm not standing still.

During these two years I have changed my style greatly and brought a large number of new elements, invented by me, and some extra details. Sometimes it's little things, sometimes it's some different mannerisms, it's just very difficult to explain it to people. You just need to show it and with time I think people will start to understand it and be able to distinguish what makes this dancer special and why.

OC: In what way is your style special? How can you describe it?

SC: I just have my whole style based on speed and dynamics, on a certain kind of lightness. So I make complex elements look light and easy. And I understand that this is my advantage and once I feel inspired I start working on this advantage and build upon it. For example, I understand that it's very easy for me to jump. So I think about it and work on it and it brings a certain result eventually. Sometimes you have very raw things but you have to refine them all.

OC: How do you come up with new routines and do you dream of creating elements that will be named after Bumblebee like Simone Biles has done in artistic gymnastics?

SC: In breaking, it is always necessary to come up with something new. It's not that you just can, but you have to. Every dancer is obliged to be an individual personality, he has to be original, creative and to have his style. It's not enough to just use your basic moves. But to create something on purpose is very hard. I mean, you can't come to training and think: 'OK, I have to come up with five new movements.' It doesn't really work this way.

It's closer to art and to creativity. Inspiration should come to you. And it happens sometimes when you come inspired to training and for some reason you can think of a lot of ideas. And in that case, you don't follow your usual training regimen. Instead of doing your usual stuff for an hour or so, you focus on this moment and try not to lose this creative spark.

OC: Do you ever get an idea to train with Russian gymnasts and to get inspiration from them?

SC: If I can learn something from them, it would be connected to what they do on the floor. Because I don't work with apparatus in my sport. But what they do on the carpet is actually very similar to breaking. Even the 'butterfly' element, they call it 'circles'. This element came to gymnastics from breaking. The twist element was first executed by Alexei Nemov.

To be fair, in breaking we have even more elements. If I ran into a gymnast during the training, why not? For example, Nikita Nagornyy or Artur (Dalaloyan), maybe we could invent something together. It's fun to make some content or collaborate. This would be great. But during the sports practice, I don't see much point in it.

But I am really inspired by our gymnasts. I understand that I'm not far away from them age wise. And I am now analysing Nagornyy or Dalaloyan, I met them before and it gives me an opportunity to analyse them better. I understand that they would be almost the same age during the Olympics as me. And I admire their approach, I like it very much. They work so hard - that's why they are champions of everything. This motivates me in general.

Artur Dalaloyan performs on floor in qualification at the 2019 World Championships (Photo: Olympic Channel)

OC: How focused are you on Paris 2024?

Sergey: I look at Paris 2024 exactly the same way as I did two years ago. Back then, it was further away for me. Now we are getting closer and it's something more tangible. And for me, all of my goals and ambitions, they have become more tangible too. I understand that I will face some difficulties. But at the same time I understand all the possibilities. It is all absolutely possible, at 24 years old.

I once said that in breaking the older, the better. But everything has its boundaries. If you are 35 years old, it's probably not ideal to perform at the Olympics. But comparing 24 to 18... I think it's a difference that's positive. Being 24 is much better because you're just as physically strong but you have a wealth of experience. And it's certainly cool because it's also a completely different approach.

Why would it be important for me to perform in Paris? Because it is again about making history, but on a different scale. And I understand that if I manage to do it, the scale would be doubled. It would be a double historical event for the athlete, in this case for me. It's a big responsibility and a lot of excitement.

OC: Are you thinking of changing your breaking name from 'Bumblebee' to something else as you get older?

SC: No, I don't think I will ever change my name. I understand this question is being asked because Bumblebee is a character from the movie Transformers which is mostly known among children. It's something childish. But at the same time it's kind of fun. Bumblebee in the movie is growing too.

Time goes on so I grow with it as well. But first, this name is already established, a lot of people know it. Secondly, I'm just not sure I can find any better to make it so memorable. To think of something else? Well, maybe Optimus Prime? But this name is already given to my father, he is written in my phone book like that. (laughs)