updated 02/21/2010 AT 7:00 PM ET
•originally published 02/22/2010 AT 7:30 AM ET
On his way to becoming the first U.S. man to win figure skating gold in 22 years, Evan Lysacek had a little help from another Olympic gold medalist – gymnast Nastia Liukin.
The pair – who met in October 2008 in Rapid City, S.D., while performing on the NBC special Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular – have been close friends since last summer.
“We met a couple of years ago at a gymnastics and skating show,” Liukin says. “We’ve gotten to know each other really well and [are] able to connect because there’s nothing like the Olympics. We both know what it takes to try for the ultimate dream of being an Olympic champion.”
After meeting, “We just became really good friends and become really close since then,” adds Lysacek. They attended the ESPYs together last July, and in August, Lysacek went to Dallas to cheer on Liukin during her gymnastics comeback at the U.S. Nationals. “It was cool but nerve-racking watching her compete – to be on the balance beam like that? For me, it’s easier to do it then watch it,” says Lysacek, 24.
They switched roles this week when Liukin, 20, traveled to Vancouver to root for Lysacek. “To see his dreams come true was amazing,” Liukin says. “It was nice to be on other side of things and be the support system, but I was nervous.”
“She been so helpful to me,” adds Lysacek. “She has been through it herself. If I’m having a bad day, she tells me to have faith and to keep going. Sometimes your support system has more faith in you than yourself. And when she tells me things are going to be fine, I really believe it.”
This week was no exception. After Lysacek’s victory, the Russian delegation complained that silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko should have won because he completed a quadruple jump and Lysacek did not, even though the Olympic judges’ scores revealed that Lysacek had the better all-around long program and superior jumps, spins and footwork to Plushenko.
“I think he’s handling the controversy well,” says Liukin, who lives in Dallas and travels to L.A. to visit Lysacek and work on business projects. “You work your hardest all year and when have something like that happen to you, it crushes you a little bit. Evan was a little upset, and I told him, ‘You have worked your entire life and you have achieved the biggest reward in your sport, so enjoy every aspect of it.’ ”
After Lysacek’s win, they did. When they’re together in L.A., says Liukin, “We hang out, go to dinner and movies, and lay low. We have similar personalities – we’re both laid back.”
In Vancouver, however, they have been going non-stop since Thursday night, when the celebration started at the USA House with friends, family and members of the USOC. On Saturday, they helped host a small gathering at the Procter and Gamble Family Home in Vancouver, which put on a birthday party for Lysacek’s father, Don, and his uncle, who are twins.