After a long Winter Olympics absence, Lindsey Vonn — the most decorated female skier of all time — failed to take home a medal on Saturday morning (Friday evening stateside) in her first Olympic event in eight years.
Vonn, 33, made her highly anticipated 2018 Winter Olympics debut at the women’s Super-G, aiming to become the third American athlete with three career Olympic alpine-skiing medals.
But her dream was dashed when, first to compete, she set the time at 1:21.49, which was soon bested by several competitors.
“I did the best I could,” she said later. “I’m happy with my performance. It might not be a medal, but I definitely gave it everything I had.”
Commentators said they could see Vonn mouthing “I tried” after her run, according to Sports Illustrated.
Vonn will have another chance to medal, in the downhill event, later in the Games.
“I’ve had a roller coaster the last eight years with so many injuries, but I’m here, I’m healthy,” she told reporters on Saturday. “I have two more races left, so I hope those will go a little bit better.”
The competition came eight long years after Vonn took home gold (downhill) and bronze (Super-G) in the 2010 games in Vancouver, making her the only returning Olympic Super-G medalist among her competitors.
Along with Vonn, Switzerland’s Lara Gut — who won bronze in downhill at the Winter Olympics in 2014 — was among the athletes going for gold in the speed event, where the winner is decided by just a single run.
Team USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin — the 22-year-old skiing phenom who disappointingly came in fourth in the alpine skiing slalom a day earlier, after winning gold the previous day in the giant slalom — decided to sit out the Super-G, which would have been her third continuous day of racing, to rest.
However, she tweeted good luck to competitors shortly before their first runs.
Racers Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, Johanna Schnarf of Italy, Anna Veith of Austria, and Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria, all came in as major threats to Vonn’s chance at gold.
Vonn — who has 28 Super-G races in her career — was the first racer to hit the slopes.
Saturday’s performance was the first time she has skied on Olympic snow in eight years. She missed the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, when she seriously re-injured her reconstructed right knee on the slopes in 2013, forcing her to watch the competitions from a television screen.
Vonn, who has faced a number of injuries through her career — including two torn ACLs, two concussions and multiple broken bones — then crashed while training in Colorado in November 2016, causing her the worst injury of her career: a fractured humerus bone in her right arm, which left her unable to move her right hand.
She told PEOPLE in September that the injury frightened her like no other before it.
“I got out of surgery and I asked the doctor if he had put a nerve block in my arm because I couldn’t move my hand — and he said he hadn’t,” Vonn, who holds 81 World Cup wins, told PEOPLE. “It was terrifying. That was the first injury that really scared me. I could have been permanently damaged. It’s scary to think it wouldn’t have just been my career that was over. I’m a pretty fearless person, but it definitely shook me for a moment — just a moment.”
She didn’t fully recover until June, but it was just in time to prepare for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — and she qualified for Team USA last month. Before making her debut, Vonn sat down with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie to discuss what her head was at before her debut.
“I am very anxious right now, it’s been a lot of days over here in Korea without racing and I need to get going,” she told on the Today show. “I feel like a caged bull for the last week and a half and all I want to do is be set free so I can get my energy out.”
Though she would be facing dozens of younger competitors in these Olympics, Vonn made it clear that she didn’t see her age as a problem.
“I have a lot more experience. I’ve been through this a few times, and I’ve already won Olympic gold, so I’m not nervous,” she said. “I don’t feel the pressure, I know the routine. And I think being older gives me an advantage, so I’m not worried about the young guns just yet.”
She added: “I’m mentally stronger, I believe in myself a lot more, and I know what my body is capable of.”
The day before her debut, Vonn sent out a touching tweet dedicated to her grandfather, who she says was an invaluable part of her upbringing.
During her NBC interview, Vonn expanded on the importance of her grandfather and father’s influence, saying they helped to give her the strength to persevere.
“It’s a family thing, it comes from my grandfather, and my father as well, it’s a certain grit, where there is no word quit,” she said. “Failure is not in my dictionary.”
After her race on Saturday, she said, “I’m skiing for him. He’s been such a big inspiration in my life. It’s hard for me that he’s not here. I wish he was. I ski with his ashes. I just want to win for him.”
Vonn will compete in the downhill (on Wednesday local time) and combined (on Friday local time) next week. But once that wraps-up, it’s unlikely Vonn will return for another Olympics — though not for lack of desire.
“It just depends on my knee,” she said after competing in the Super-G. “I love ski racing. I want to keep racing forever. Unfortunately, my body is not the Terminator. I can’t take as many beatings as I used to.”
Still, that doesn’t mean she isn’t looking at other options.
“I have some friends that are actors and actresses,” Vonn told NBC before mentioning one in particular: Dwayne Johnson. “He said he’s going to help me after the season and I’m going to follow him around a little bit and see if it’s [acting] really something that I would potentially be able to do.”
The Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.