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At this time last year, Evan Lysacek and Lindsey Vonn had accomplished everything in their respective sports except medal at the Olympics. In the eyes of the American masses, that meant they were still somewhat off the radar -- unfair, perhaps, but true. Tuesday's announcement that they had been named the U.S. Olympic Committee's sportsman and sportswoman of the year rewards perseverance and poise under pressure. As a bonus, they've both remained down-to-earth while their celebrity has soared.
Lysacek entered the crucible of Vancouver as the reigning Grand Prix and world champion in figure skating and won Olympic gold -- the first time a male skater had completed the worlds-Olympic double since Scott Hamilton did it in 1984.
His performance was strong enough athletically and artistically to overcome the absence of a quadruple jump, and by extension, to beat Russian jumper extraordinaire Evgeni Plushenko. Lysacek's natural class subsequently came in handy in riding above the ensuing mini-tempest and Plushenko's petulant comments. Perhaps most touchingly, Lysacek sincerely seemed as happy or more so for his longtime coach Frank Carroll, who'd come close to gold with former pupils Linda Fratianne and Michelle Kwan, as he was for himself.
Vonn was already a poster girl for sustained excellence when she arrived in Canada as the two-time World Cup overall champion. She also arrived gimpy, and famously wrapped her bruised shin in quark cheese to heal it. Her gold medal in the downhill and bronze in the super-G event were affirmations of her talent rather than revelations, but given the slippery slope of expectations she was navigating, spectacular nonetheless.
Vonn evinced no signs of an Olympic hangover the following month when she clinched her third straight World Cup title and became the most decorated American skier ever on the global circuit, male or female. She already has six World Cup race victories to her credit this season. The so-called technical events of slalom and giant slalom remain Vonn's Achilles heel, but characteristically, she's attacking those disciplines this season, unwilling to concede anything.
At a recent U.S. Ski team camp in Vail, Colo., Vonn mingled with fans and tirelessly signed autographs until darkness fell. It's clear she appreciates her success, but it hasn't changed her hat size.
Lysacek told reporters on a conference call that he finally allowed himself to tag along with his family of "avid skiers'' this summer after years of avoiding the pastime for fear of injury, and has skied black diamond trails in Idaho and Japan. No word yet on whether Vonn is working on a triple Lutz.