After winning an appeal over a disallowed long jump which put her back in touch with the overnight leader, Eunice Barber of France, she then produced a disappointing performance in the event which has always been one of her greatest strengths, the javelin, to put the gold medal seemingly out of reach.
With only the 800 metres remaining, Lewis was 120 points adrift of the former Sierra Leone athlete, whose personal best for the two-lap distance was almost five seconds faster than hers.
Lewis - who effectively secured the 1994 Commonwealth title and last year's European title with outstanding javelin throws - managed only one scoring throw from her three attempts, 47.44m.
In contrast Barber, who had broken personal bests for the 100m hurdles and the high jump on Saturday, rose to the challenge once again by flinging the spear - the balance of which has been altered this year to limit the distances being achieved - 49.88m. Another personal best.
Lewis, who had hung her head and stepped over the line after her final effort had fallen well short, knew that she faced an overwhelming challenge in the final, gruelling event of the competition.
The difference in points between Barber and Lewis - 5,977 to 5,857 - corresponded to 17.7 seconds, which was a massive cushion for French athlete to work with.
The javelin event was won with 54.82m by the Olympic champion, Ghada Shouaa, back in top-class action for the first time since securing her title in Atlanta. Lewis had named her as the most dangerous rival, but the Syrian, who only qualified at the last minute for these championships, showed she had lost a lot during her long lay-off.
Sabine Braun, who beat Lewis to the last world title, maintained her position in third place with an effort of 51.59m.
Earlier in the day, the fortunes of the competition fluctuated wildly as Lewis in the opening event as she became involved in a controversy that roused the crowd to angry whistles in her favour.
Lewis had entered the day's competition just one point behind Barber, but she knew that margin was bound to widen given the French athlete's ability in the long jump. Last month, in front of a rapturous Paris crowd, she raised the French record to 7.01m, 34cm further than Lewis's best.
With the last of her three attempts remaining, Lewis had managed only 6.20m, as opposed to Barber's 6.86, and although she landed further down the pit any rising hopes were quelled when the judge brandished the red flag.
Lewis protested, and studied both the board - with its 10cm wide strip of plasticine positioned to indicate any jumpers taking off beyond the line - and the video replay.
As the big screen replayed her jump above her head, the audience booed and hissed as the image appeared to show her foot planted short of the line and leaving the picture without impinging on the plasticine.
The IAAF Rule - 137. 4(a) - is clear. "A competitor fails if he touches the ground beyond the take-off line with any part of his body." After a discussion involving several officials, after which Lewis's Dutch coach, Charles von Commenee, arrived at her side to put his arm comfortingly around her - a strictly illegal encroachment - Lewis's mark was given as 6.64, which lessed the gap between herself and Barber to 73 points, rather than 214.
Shortly afterwards, however, Lewis's official result was given as 6.20 - not as a result of any French protest, but on the decision of the field judges.
Britain protested - and a jury of appeal accepted their claim, having studied video evidence and the take-off board. Thus, at length, she was able to return to work in the evening session in buoyant frame of mind.
Darren Campbell failed to secure one of the four qualifying places for last night's 100m final despite the fact that only five men contested his semi-final following the withdrawal of Namibia's quadruple Olympic silver medallist, Frankie Fredericks, and Freddie Mayola, of Cuba, and the disqualification for two false starts of Australia's Matt Shirvington.
Ashia Hansen, Britain's world indoor triple jump record holder, qualified for tomorrow's final with her first attempt, recording 14.28m. It was a highly encouraging and economical effort from an athlete who has put behind her the days when she responded inconsistently to the challenge of major international competition.
Meanwhile the reverberations were still going through the sport after the outstanding women's pole vaulting late on Saturday night.
In what was the inaugural such competition at the world championships, Stacy Dragila of the United States required a world record-equalling 4.60m to overcome Anzhela Balakhonova of the Ukraine, who took silver with 4.55m after appearing in the dominant position for the main part of the evening because she recorded no fouls at any height. It took Dragila 18 jumps to secure gold.
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