With the slow-motion technology and the superimposed music of that ubiquitous phenomenon, the TV sports essay, the idea of the athlete as dancer has become a cliche'. In last night's premiere of her dance "Turf" at George Washington University's Marvin Center Theater, Maida Withers went the newscasters one better in presenting the dancer as athlete.

Choreographed in honor of the 1984 Olympics, "Turf" inevitably competes with the televised images that permeate our consciousness every four years. In choosing to dance against a backdrop of actual Olympic newsreel footage and broadcasts, Withers boldly pits the unaided human body against the familiar electronic wizardry.

Indeed, she leaves her own dance "tricks" in plain sight. Slow-motion jumps are accomplished with the aid of lifts, and dancers, performing bicycling movements on their backs, give "close-ups" of striding action.

In devising the choreography for the Dance Construction Company, Withers studied documentary film footage of female athletes from the 1912 to 1976 Olympics. And Withers proves that there are still advantages to the live event. She is able to present her athletes in synchrony, to supply the calculated grace of the precisely tilted head and the pointed foot, and to fragment familiar events by presenting them out of sequence.

The more impressionistic sections are also the more successful. Withers' opening solo, emphasizing the quirks of athletic preparations and recuperations, pithily captures the frustration inherent in the sports contest. Juxtaposing slow, normal and accelerated motion, a walking race becomes a clever commentary on styles of coping with competition. A sequence of flashing leaps and sweeping windmill arms provides a climactically charged ending.

In their white track outfits, Withers and her dancers look like the real thing. However, in challenge to the sports essay, "Turf" ultimately proves that the different goals of the athletic and dance professions will always keep them distinct.

Also on the program was Withers' 1982 "Families are Forever," a haunting work that exposes and embraces the platitudes of American family life.

The program will be repeated tonight and tomorrow at 8.