By Manuele Lang
VAL D'ISERE, France (Reuters) - Lindsey Vonn's injured knee let her down once again on Saturday, raising doubts about whether the downhill Olympic champion would be in a position to defend her title at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The American four-times World Cup champion, watched for the first time in a World Cup race by boyfriend Tiger Woods, missed a gate in the middle section of French resort Val d'Isere's OK piste and later said her knee was to blame.
"I didn't hurt myself more than I'm already hurt," Vonn told reporters.
"Unfortunately I have no ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and it gave out on me.
"It was a small compression, and it was fully loaded on the right ski and my knee just completely gave out. I tried to pressure the ski again and it gave out again. I had no chance of making that gate, unfortunately."
Vonn first tore ligaments in her right knee at the world championships in Schladming in February and she aggravated the injury in training at Copper Mountain, Colorado, last month.
Her initial return to competition in Lake Louise two weeks ago had been promising as she climbed from 40th in her first downhill to fifth in the Super-G held two days later.
Now the doubts are back for the second most successful female skier in history with 59 World Cup wins, three less than Austria's Anne-Marie Moser-Proell.
"It's certainly not the return I had anticipated," she said.
"It was Tiger's first time on a World Cup race and I was really hoping to win my 60th as a present for him."
She said she would have to learn to live with the injury and potentially adjust her technique to reduce the impact on her knee.
She remained optimistic, however, about her chances of being competitive at Sochi in February.
"I'm going to stick to a similar plan that I was on before. I just need to be more careful of how many races I do.
"I'm at risk of doing more damage to my knee and my meniscus. So I'm going to play it safe and race really minimal races. Probably one or two before the Olympics."
Vonn missed the races held in St Moritz last weekend and told Reuters that she probably would not return before Cortina d'Ampezzo on January 16, a resort where she has won seven previous races.
Before her mishap Vonn had already been making headlines, having been besieged at her hotel by journalists, photographers and paparazzi because of Woods's presence.
The golfer was seen at the bib ceremony on Friday and the pair were also spotted in a tea lounge downtown.
On Saturday, sporting a grey hat, shades and a checked anorak, he stood in the finish area, his back to the press and remained expressionless when his girlfriend faulted.
"He was very happy to be here and he told me he was very concerned by what's happening to me," Vonn said.
Her rivals also wished her a prompt return to her best form.
"I talked to Tiger a bit in the finish area," World Cup champion Tina Maze said.
"He didn't bring her luck today. But I respect them both very much and I hope Lindsey will soon recover."
The Slovenian finished second in the Val d'Isere downhill behind unheralded Swiss Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden, who clinched her maiden World Cup victory.
(Reporting by Manuele Lang; editing by Josh Reich)