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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Evan Lysacek

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 29. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

I've never been a rah-rah follower of figure skating, so imagine my surprise when late on a frigid Thursday night last February, I sat rapt in front of my television, cheering every landed jump, axle and toe loop from Evan Lysacek as if it were the ultimate drive of a Super Bowl.

Forget for a moment the "quad controversy" that Lysacek's gold medal in Vancouver generated. Focus instead on how this was the epitome of an Olympic success story. After Lysacek had won, it felt like the end of Rocky IV: a plucky American taking down his seemingly unbeatable and robotic Russian rival, Evgeni Plushenko. It took everything I had not to start screaming "USA! USA!" at the top of my lungs. How often does figure skating lend itself to Rocky comparisons and lead to intense bouts of patriotic fervor?

The Mickey to Lysacek's Rocky was 71-year-old Frank Carroll, who had spent four decades producing some of the sport's most notable champions, including Michelle Kwan, Nicole Bobek, Timothy Goebel and Christopher Bowman. But Carroll had never coached a gold medal winner until he paired up with Lysacek, whose development as one of the world's elite skaters was delayed by a cornucopia of injuries: broken ribs, a stress fracture to and bursitis/tendinitis of the hip, a stress fracture in his left foot and ailments to his left forearm, elbow and shoulder. That doesn't account for the stomach flu he suffered from between his short program and free skate in Turin or the bacterial infection that plagued him at that year's World Championships. (In spite of that bad luck, he still finished fourth and third, respectively, at those competitions.)

When the gold medal was firmly draped around his neck, Lysacek conducted himself with class in the face of a firestorm. (OK, so don't completely forget about the quad controversy.) Not once did he attack Plushenko in response to the silver medalist's protests. He merely expressed a firm belief that he knew what he had to do to take home the gold and that his performance met those standards. And you know what? I believed him.

Lysacek overcame a rash of injuries that would cause WebMD to crash from overload and delivered a long-sought gold to one of the sport's finest coaches. Most important, he made me cheer for figure skating like I never have before. For that, he is my Sportsman of the Year.Agree with this selection? Tell us your Sportsman pick here.

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