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Olympic connection

| Friday, Feb. 17, 2006

The winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, may not be breaking TV rating records but men's figure skating has a dedicated following in the Valley because of Evan Lysacek.

Lysacek, a 20-year-old native of Naperville, Ill., has deep roots in the Valley, and his relatives here are eagerly watching their favorite Olympian's adventure.

"This is something he has wanted to do since he was very little," said Marie Sukala of Lower Burrell.

Sukala is Lysacek's great-aunt -- her brother, Sam, is Evan's grandfather -- and she has been glued to the television every time the men's skating program has been on.

"I remember when he was about 8-years-old and they were here visiting us," Sukala said. "He said his goal was to go to the Olympics. He was so determined even back then, and we are really proud of him for making it."

Nasher Ward, Evan's great-uncle, agreed with Sukala about how focused Lysacek was.

"Even when he was little, he was all business about his skating," Ward said. "He has always been a very level-headed young man, always very gentlemanly but, when it came to skating, he was serious."

Evan's mother, the former Tanya Santoro, grew up in New Kensington and graduated from Valley High School in the early 1970s. Tanya and Don Lysacek were married here but have lived in suburban Chicago for the past 25 years, where they raised Evan and his two sisters.

Lysacek's grandparents, Sam and Edna Santoro, were lifelong residents of New Kensington until five years ago, when they moved to Atlanta to be near another daughter, Chyrisse Chason.

Despite the distance separating the Lysaceks, the family remains tight, Chason said.

"We are very close," Chason said. "We've seen Evan compete four years in a row, and his cousins have even been to Los Angeles to see him train."

Being a close knit clan inevitably meant some of the family would make the trip to Italy to cheer Evan on.

"We've got 27 people here and we're having a great time," Chason said via cell phone from Turin.

While some local cousins made the cross-Atlantic trip, Sukala is one who chose not to go.

"If I had the guts to get on a plane, I would be there," Sukala said.

Despite the support, Evan's Olympics have not had a storybook ending. A fall in the short program pushed him to 10th position, and on top of that, he is suffering from flu-like symptoms.

"He is not feeling well at all," Chason said. "He has been throwing up, and they are treating him intravenously."

"A few years ago he was in Japan for a competition and he became very ill," Sukala said. "His mother was back at home and she wanted him to withdraw, but he pulled it together and went out and won the gold medal."

After finishing a disappointing 10th after the men's short program, Lysacek put in an almost flawless free skate program Thursday and finished fourth overall.

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