Gunther Gebel-Williams, dressed in the usual silver and crimson tights and the usual jeweled vest that did not interfere with the usual view of the Gebel-Williams pectoral muscles, rode into the D.C. Armory yesterday standing on a proud horse and holding a torch above his head

A torch? The allusion was surely not accidental. Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey's Circus, which will be at the D.C. Armory -- forgive us, the D.C. Star Plex Armory -- through April 7, is nothing more nor less than the Spring Olympics, and no one (knock sawdust) is asking for a boycott. t

At yesterday morning's opening performance, the bad news was the absence of Maharanee, the white tiger. But it was hard to argue with the explanation offered by circus officials: Due to a mix-up in meat shipments, Maharanee had not been fed for three days. Gunther Gebel-Williams apparently chose not to be remembered as yet another mix-up in meat shipments.

There were, in any event, cats aplenty. After his magnificent entrance, Gebel-Williams held a rendezvous with 17 Bengal tigers in a round mesh cage and, with a few lashes of his whip for encouragement, convinced them to dance in circles, stand on their hind paws, hop around kangaroo-style, roll over on their black-and-white striped bellies, and leap through rings of fire. There were 17 of them and only one of him. Fortunately, tigers are not known for their arithmetical skills.

Speaking of cats, here's a riddle: When is an elephant a pachyderm?

Answer: When it is performing with "Predatory Panthers and Pumas Poised to Pounce." Several pachyderms did just that later in yesterday's program, joined, of course, by the equally alliterative Gunther Gebel-W.

It is his show, the 109th edition of the Greatest Show on Earth is. So were the 108th, 107th, 106th, etc. But the colossal Carrillo Brothers are no slouches, either ,as they skip rope and play leapfrog on the high wire. And who can resist the Flying Farfans and their trapeze act?

They work with a net, which is where the Farfan who attempted the death-defying triple somersault landed all three times he attempted it yesterday morning -- but as Scarlett O'Hara astutely observed, tomorrow is another day.

How does one choose a favorite act from among such a grab bag? Very easily, if one believes there is one animal born for circus work, one animal who barely has to lift a paw to be a star. That animal is, of course, the bear -- Wally Naghtin's bears, in this case. They ride bicycles, they ride motorcycles, they stand on their hind legs, they stand on their front legs. Where did the bear ever get the idea he should be a four-legged animal, anyway?