Olympics-bound for the Philippines, Levi Jung-Ruivivar prepares for Paris with a new-found drive

Olympics-bound for the Philippines, Levi Jung-Ruivivar prepares for Paris with a new-found drive

By Megan Roth

After announcing her plans to compete for the Philippines in September of 2023 and placing second on bars among points-eligible athletes at the FIG World Cup Series earlier this year, Levi Jung-Ruivivar is officially Paris bound! Levi is a four-time former U.S. National Team Member and intended to compete for the U.S. through the end of the 2021-2024 quad, but always had a dream of competing for the  , something she previously planned on pursuing for the 2025-2028 quad.

Tony Ruivivar, Levi’s grandfather on her dad’s side, was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. as a young adult. “There’s a lot of very unique cultural things about the Philippines that I feel like I grew up with because of my grandfather and because of my dad as well,” Levi said. “Flipinos love the entertainment industry and my family has been in the entertainment industry, my parents are both actors.”

When she switched gyms to WOGA at the end of 2022, Levi was able to get in contact with Cliff Parks, the head coach of the Philippines National Team.  “Once I started talking to him and realized there was a lot more opportunity for me to compete under the Filipino flag and also getting to represent the Philippines and qualify for the Olympics, I saw that as an opportunity and I jumped at it,” Levi said. “Also, everyone at the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines (GAP) and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) has been super welcoming and has been super supportive.”

The process of getting her Filipino passport and transferring her FIG license was a long, bumpy process, but Levi’s support systems were very helpful in helping lift some of that stress from her.  

Although qualifying to the Olympics was her ultimate goal, going into Cairo, the first of the four World Cups, Levi wanted to enjoy the competition, and show off her gymnastics and all of the work she’d been putting in. After Cairo, when she saw she had a real chance at qualifying, Levi became laser focused on earning an Olympic spot. “Once I realized that it was a real possibility for me to qualify for the Olympics, I put in more effort and more work and more consistency in training,” Levi said. “I had to switch on the extra drive in me.” 

Throughout the World Cups, Levi and her coach at WOGA, Ivan Goriatchkine, developed a strategy to put her in the best position to qualify. 

“As each competition went on, me and my coach strategized about where I needed to stand in the points system and how difficult it would be to move up in the points based on my competitors and who was going to the next World Cup,” Levi said. After Cairo, it became clear that bars was the event she was in the best position for, but it would also be a very competitive event overall. “Bars was so close. There were so many athletes who were incredibly talented and the points were so close. It could’ve gone any way.”

Throughout the first three World Cups, Levi competed a 5.5 difficulty routine, but in the Doha final, after her competitors hit their routines, it was clear she needed to show her hardest routine. She put up her 5.8 difficulty routine, connecting her stalder-full to Ricna and toe-full to full-in dismount for the first time ever in competition – hitting the routine beautifully and scoring a 13.666. Her second place finish on the podium and first among points-eligible athletes earned her 30 points and secured her Olympic berth!

Right after the Doha event final, because calculating points is so complicated and the live scores were hard to follow, even Levi and her coaches were unsure if she really qualified. 

“I was waiting and I had no idea,” Levi said. “I was texting my mom and I think my exact words were ‘mom, mom, mom, did I make it? Mom, mom, mom, did I do it?’ And then I started texting Ivan who was back home and was like ‘did I make it? I’m so confused,’ and he was like ‘I think you did.’ My heart was beating so much, but it was so exciting.” 

Levi’s coaches at WOGA, Valeri and Anna Liukin were in Italy at the time and also were unsure about Levi’s qualification. “After I made the Olympics, my mom texted Anna and was like ‘she made it’ with exclamation points,” Levi said. “And Anna was like ‘oh, so she made the routine, she made the bar routine. Yay, that’s great.’ She told Valeri, ‘oh, she made her bar routine.’” It wasn’t until Stanford head coach Tabitha Yim and Goriatchkine told the Liukins Levi qualified that they were certain. “Then Anna shouted out to the whole U.S. delegation [in Italy] and everyone just started erupting in applause and cheering for me,” Levi said. “That was so nice to hear because everyone in the U.S. was so sweet and it’s really nice to know they are still so supportive.”

“I’ve had so many amazing memories with Team USA and I continue to cheer on all of the athletes and I really want them to do well because USAG did so good for me and they supported me through a lot,” Levi said. “I grew up in that system and so I’m really grateful and I will always cherish those moments.”

Before competing bars in Doha, Levi received a pep talk from 8-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina. “She looked at me and said ‘you can do this, you got this. You can do anything one time. You can do it. Just remember to squeeze your butt, just squeeze your butt no matter what, okay. You can do it.’ And I was like ‘Okay.’ And then, I said to my coach, ‘no matter what happens out there, the fact that Oksana said I can do it, that just was a highlight of my day.” 

While competing at the World Cups, the 11-16 hour flights and time changes were nowhere near the hardest part for Levi. Instead, she explained that the hardest parts of the World Cup circuit for her were adjusting to new environments and equipment, and competing back-to-back weeks, something she’s never done before. 

For the week after Cottbus, the second of the four competitions, Levi planned to stay with her cousin in Berlin and train at a gym nearby. But after what she thought would be a 15-minute bike ride to the gym turned out to be more like an hour and a half, and when the bars at the gym in Berlin were not usable, Levi started taking a 4-hour round trip excursion from her cousin’s apartment in Berlin to the training facility in Cottbus she’d been at for the World Cup. She would wake up at 6:30 or 7:00, bike to the train station, take an hour and a half long train to Cottbus, bike to the training center, and then do the opposite to get back to Berlin after practice. “It was definitely very strenuous, but my legs got so much stronger, I got so much more cardio in from the biking,” she said. “It was truly amazing to be able to bike in Berlin and see so much of the city. We saw the Berlin Wall and the river and it was amazing and even though it was extremely difficult, it was honestly something I’d do again because it was such a unique experience.”

Besides qualifying for the Olympics, Levi’s favorite part of the World Cup competitions was meeting and competing with gymnasts from all over the world. “It was truly inspirational to see all of the athletes because every single person who was at the World Cups had a unique style and I feel like it was a reflection of their country and their training,” Levi said. “There were so many different styles of gymnastics. It really was inspiring to see how everyone worked with their different body types and their different facilities at home and were able to all come together to showcase their gymnastics.” She specifically mentioned New Zealand’s Georgia-Rose Brown, the second bars Olympic qualifier, as inspirational. Brown has been trying for the Olympics since 2012 and told Levi she’s been competing the same bars routine for 10 years. 

Along with meeting athletes from other countries at the World Cups, Levi got to spend time with the Filipino Men’s National Team. “In Cottbus, some of the men from the Philippines were there and we bonded so much”, Levi said. “We tried some German chocolates together and we were interviewing different people from the World Cup together. They are truly really generous. Filipino culture is very embracing and everyone just feels very warm and it’s been truly amazing.” Levi also roomed with former US National Team member, and current Filipino National Team member and UCLA gymnast, Emma Malabuyo at all four competitions. “It was definitely really nice to have a teammate who’s been to college and is older,” Levi said. “She was kind of like an older sister. She was super helpful and was always cheering me on, she was really, really kind.”

Before Paris, Levi will head to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for Asian Championships at the end of May, where her main goal is to clean up her routines. At the Olympics, she will compete in the All-Around and has a dream of making the All-Around final along with just enjoying the experience. 

“I just keep forgetting that it’s not just gymnasts at this competition, it’s the Olympics,” Levi said. “There’s going to be top athletes from all different sports from all over the world. Truly, I’m excited to get to have that experience and go to the opening ceremonies and have a feel for the village and be in the environment of the Olympics.”

“My family is all going to Paris which is amazing because my entire family hasn’t watched me compete in a long time,” Levi said. “We have some friends going as well, so it’s very exciting.” 

In the fall, Levi will head to Stanford University to begin her NCAA career, something she’s extremely excited for, following the Cardinal’s record-breaking 2024 season. Through college, Levi also plans to keep competing in Elite meets for the Philippines in hopes of making the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, her hometown! 

Because Levi is known for her stunning toe-point, we had to ask the secret behind it. Here’s what she had to say!

“I wish I could say I worked really hard for it, but I don’t think I did. My mom was a ballerina, so you would think I’d get it from her, but she actually doesn’t have the most flexible feet. I actually got my toe point from my dad. He has extremely flexible feet and he has a good toe point himself, obviously it’s not incredible because he never has to point his feet. Because my feet are so flexible, my coaches always tell me I have to keep them pointed because if I don’t point them or relax them it’s very noticeable in my gymnastics because they kind of just flail around. Anna is always like, ‘Levi, you have to make sure you point them’ because she always gets on to me for my switch half, not pointing enough. She’s like ‘it looks like it’s just waving at me if you don’t point it, you have to point it.’ I wish I could say I could give people tips on how to get a toe point, but I just had good genetics.”

Gymnastics at the Olympics will begin on July 27th. Levi will compete with a mixed group of athletes from different countries that will be assigned once all qualifiers are determined. 

Photos by Leo Bautista

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