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 couple — who met in October 2008 in Rapid City, S.D., while performing on the NBC special Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular — confirm to PEOPLE exclusively that they've been dating since last summer.
"We became good friends and have become really close since then," says Lysacek. The two attended the ESPYs together last July and the relationship picked up steam after that, they say.
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 than watch it," says Lysacek, 24.
The couple switched roles this week when Liukin, 20, traveled to Vancouver to root for Lysacek. "To see his dreams come true was amazing," Liukin says. "Even though we're not in the same sport, we got to connect at the same level because there's nothing like the Olympics. 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."
Handling controversy 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, the couple 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, Tate, who are twins.