Just two of Johnson-Thompson’s rivals possess a quicker 100 metres hurdles personal best than her, but the tone for the day was set when she could only produce 13.80 seconds to trail last in her morning heat. The 1.77m high jump that followed was her lowest since 2014.
A mid-afternoon stroll and pep-talk from her mentor Denise Lewis yielded only slight improvement, with 12.87m in the shot put having fouled on what would have been her biggest attempt. A 200m time of 23.51sec was a slight uptick to end the day.
“You have to dig deep for the positives today,” she said, with a laugh. “But there are some there. Because I have been in this situation before, I know I can get out of it. I’ve just got to finish and then go back to the drawing board.”
While Sulek (3,940 points) leads Dutch Olympic silver medalist Anouk Vetter (3,843) at the top of the standings, Johnson-Thompson (3,695) faces a battle to even be the top British athlete in Gotzis.
Having finished fourth at March’s World Indoor Championships, 22-year-old Holly Mills is poised to extend Britain’s prestigious heptathlon pedigree, and sits just four points behind Johnson-Thompson in 10th overnight after posting 13.41sec (100m hurdles), 1.77m (high jump), 13.36m (shot put) and 24.47sec (200m).
The decathlon is set for a fascinating head-to-head between Switzerland’s Simon Ehammer and Canada’s Olympic champion Damian Warner, with just two points separating the pair and a huge 255-point margin to third.
Leader Ehammer produced one of the most remarkable multi-event performances in the long jump when he leapt 8.45m – a mark good enough to win individual gold at every Olympics since 2004.
Meanwhile, Matt Hudson-Smith broke the 25-year-old British 400m record to finish third at the Eugene Diamond League in 44.35sec, behind winner Michael Norman.
Keely Hodgkinson suggested she can challenge for world 800m gold with victory in a world-leading 1.57:72sec, while Dina Asher-Smith could only finish fourth over 100m behind Elaine Thompson-Herah and Laura Muir trailed in 11th as Faith Kipyegon romped home in the 1,500m.