Personal Best: Vaulting into greatness

Brothers Paul and Morgan Hamm are at the forefront of U.S. men’s gymnastics.

If the current pattern continues, San Francisco could have a pair of siblings to take the Hamms’ place.

The Pearce and Rauchwerger brothers are age-level champion gymnasts who train six days per week and 3½ hours per day under the close eye of coach Neal Yasami at the American Gymnastics Club in the Sunset district.

Yasami and his assistants coach boys and girls ages 5 to 18 who compete at a variety of skill levels. The club’s 2008 season consisted of six Northern California meets, as well as the state championships held in Stockton and the regional finals in Reno, Nev., which includes teams from California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada.

Alex Pearce is already making a name for himself.

“In my 17 years of coaching, I’ve never had a kid score a perfect 10,” Yasami said. “He got two in his first meet and five during the [2008] season.”

The home-schooled 12-year-old won the 2008 state championship for his level and age group after having taken up the sport only three years earlier.

Will Pearce and Joshua Rauchwerger, a pair of 10-year-olds, competed against each other in the state and regional championships. Will Pearce won the regional and Rauchwerger the state, while the two traded second-place finishes in those events. Rauchwerger appreciates the support he receives.

“I know there’s always a team and a coach to cheer me on and say you can do it,” he said.

Will Pearce takes a common-sense approach to coping with stress from competition: “I tell myself to stop worrying or I’m just going to do worse.”

Rauchwerger’s brother Michael, 13, carries a 4.0 GPA at Presidio Middle School. After completing the school day, the elder Rauchwerger completes his homework in study hall and eats dinner in the car as his mom, Debbie, takes the boys to practice.

“I like the gym’s philosophy,” said Debbie Rauchwerger, a second-grade teacher at Clarendon Elementary School. “The kids are allowed to go on vacation. … Other gyms don’t allow kids to have other activities.”

Michael Rauchwerger finished in second place at state, but won the championship for his age and level at the regional in Reno.

“I love gymnastics,” he said. “Watching your teammates and yourself grow through the process; it’s a lot of fun. I’ve learned life skills, determination, hard work and achieving goals.”

These champion families include third brothers: 6-year-olds Eric Pearce and David Rauchwerger work hard in practice to emulate the success of their older brothers. Whereas Michael Rauchwerger favors the rings and middle brother Joshua enjoys the tumbling routines, young David Rauchwerger prefers the high bars, “because you get to do flips and stuff.”

The boys were disappointed that the Hamm twins were forced to bow out of the Beijing Olympics due to injury. Joshua Rauchwerger has thrown his support behind Olympian Jonathan Horton.

“He does a lot of crazy stuff, like double fronts off the vaults,” he said.

American Gymnastics Club

WHERE: 2520 Judah St., San Francisco

PROGRAMS: Training programs for preschoolers (under 5), youths 5 to 18 and competitive for advanced gymnasts

COST: Varies depending on length of classes and how many classes per week

MORE INFO: (415) 731-1400, or

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