If you sneak down to the Pungoteaque River on the Virginia side of the Eastern Shore at 6 in the morning, you can see the only American to win an Olympic gold medal in solo canoeing. He'll be pushing his C-1 (a "decked" canoe) swiftly through 10,000 meters of early morning waters. Time trials are on Tuesdays and Saturdays -- a motorboat keeps the pre-determined pace.

At age 60, he is one minute faster per thousand meters than his winning time in 1952.

"I can go faster than my winning time in Helsinki, but that's the boat, not me," says Frank Havens, a retired Arlington property damage appraiser now living in Harborton, Va.

His training schedule includes daily 2 1/2- to 5-mile runs alternating with 10 miles of cycling, six triathlons last year, and an every-other-week trip to the Washington Canoe Club near Key Bridge for "races against the kids."

"It's great to be around young people," says Havens. "They accept you if you do something they do well. Sometimes we whip 'em because we know more about water and style."

This summer Havens' two-year training push will pay off at the first international Masters Games, where he will compete in a total of seven races in five days, including a tandem race with his brother Bill, 66, also a former Olympian.

Three years in the making, the Masters Games, Aug. 7-Aug. 25 in Toronto, are billed as "a multisport event for mature athletes," a kind of first-come, first-served Olympics of the over-35 set, with the theme "sport for life."

Though masters competitions in some sports, notably running and swimming, are well organized even at the international level, for most older athletes this will be the first opportunity to join with international competitors in their own age group.

In anticipation of 10,0000 to 12,000 participants, it has attracted big-name world athletes -- 70-plus Denver squash player Hashim Khan, New York over-40 swimmer/author Dr. Jane Katz, and Eddy Merckx, 39, Brussels cyclist and winner of five Tour de France stage races.

With TV coverage of 22 events, and future plans for games every four years, the Masters Games promise to be a forceful message to the world that increasing age and competitive sports are not mutually incompatible.

"The International Olympics Committee has been very, very slow in recognizing the master athlete," says Tony Diamond, 55, who will compete with 10 other "seasoned veterans" from the Potomac Valley Seniors Track Club (PVSTC). "The average age in Olympic events is creeping up. Fifty years ago Olympic champs were high school and college kids. Now it's the person who's been out two and three years and can just concentrate on the sport. It used to be late twenties for track and field and long-distance. Now it's early and mid-thirities."

One of the aims of the Masters Games, according to founder Maureen O'Bryan, of Toronto, is to provide continuity for "the person who is moving out of the prime athletic condition and competition, so they don't have to wait too long to compete in a world event. If people have to lay off for 10 to 20 years, then you don't keep them within the sport."

At age 26, Diamond tried out for the Olympic team, and didn't make it.

"I said, this is it. I ran, but I didn't run competitively for 14 years."

When he joined up with the PVSTC, "we found our desire hadn't changed, and in some cases we were better. In 1954, I ran the Boston Marathon in 2:41. In 1973, at age 43, I ran 2:29. This changed my whole concept of what athletics meant."

At the Masters Games, Diamond, a program analyst for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will run "any race above 5,000 meters," a total of six races in one week.

O'Bryan, a longtime sports enthusiast and former chairman of the undergraduate physical education progam at the University of Toronto as well as vice-president of the International Assembly of National Organizations of Sport, says the masters idea was born from her "indignation at the elitist nature of most major sporting events."

"When we were developing the concept, I was looking for sports that lent themselves very well to the sport-for-life philosophy," says O'Bryan, 44, formerly an outstanding varsity athlete at the University of Melbourne in track, badminton, netball, volleyball, swimming and cricket. "I looked at the logical ones -- tennis, swimming, running, badminton . . . and cricket, an outstanding example of ongoing playing by people into their sixties and seventies. We've stuck with the idea that these are sports the mature person does play over years and years."

World-record breaker Ed Benham, 77, of Ocean City, says "there is always plenty of competition." Masters Games for him will be one of many races world-wide.

Benham, a jockey for 15 years, started running at age 72, when his wife died. Now he runs three miles early morning and 10 miles after breakfast, averaging 60 to 70 miles a week, including a weekend race.

For the five members of the D.C. Synchromasters -- average age 35 -- the Masters Games will be in addition to annual regional and national events.

Swimmer Laura D. Millman, 39, an attorney at the Department of Justice, says they welcome more competition. "It's always an encouragement to practice your routines when you have a competition coming up. It's a way of keeping our skills more finely tuned."

For other sports, the concept of masters competition is catching on, but slowly.

In canoeing, for example, Havens says he often has to compete with athletes over 40.

For sports without organized masters competition, Master Games organizers have experimented with age minimums, and already discovered their mistakes -- the shooting age, at 55, and bowling at 50, are too high."

According to O'Bryan, "People say, 'We want to be in it, but we can't, we're not old enough. We're only 48 and we have to wait till 55.'

"In some of the sports, tennis, for example, we need more categories in the higher age groups -- 70 and over -- because we have people in their eighties who want to play, but they're going to play someone 65 and over. That's a long way. We'll open more categories as time progresses."

One of O'Bryan's purposes is to turn the emphasis from the elite athlete to the lifelong competitive athlete who wants to continue over a lifetime.

"You see the same elite athletes at the Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games and European and Asian Championships as you do at the Olympics. We keep catering to the same athletes," says O'Bryan.

"For years at the Amateur Athletics Union AAU , everything was the elite athlete, the elite athlete," says Diamond, who just completed a four-year term on the Board of the Athletics Congress. "I said to them, you're talking about .1 percent of the total athletic population. What about all the others? The masters program has sort of outrun them and they're starting to take notice."

O'Bryan is pushing hard for a good showing by women competitors, but she acknowledges a lag time for female masters athletes. "One of the objectives of the games is to encourage women," says O'Bryan, formerly the first woman president of the Sports Federation of Canada. "Every sport, except ice hockey, on this program is open to women, and I've seen to that."

Masters Games officials boast that this is a low-key operation, staying well within their $5 million budget -- close to what they estimate last year's closing ceremonies for the Summer Olympics cost.

Using advanced age to advantage in courting corporate support, they've doubled the expected corporate revenues.

"What the corporates have realized is that unlike the traditional games where the athletes are between 18 and 25 with very little disposable income, our people are going to be a median age of 38 to 45. Most have a sufficient disposal income to be on-the-spot consumers of the product," says financial manager Ken O'Bryan, husband of the founder. O'Bryan, 50, will run the 10K and play in the cricket match.

One of Maureen O'Bryan's obstacles has been "the difficulty of getting people to understand that this is not an old-man's olympics, that this is something of the future."

A Squash Player International writer reportedly called a British newspaper sports desk after hearing about the games and was told, "We cannot separate room for a lot of old men tripping down memory lane. Talk to us when you have a story about real sport."

To Frank Havens, the sport is real enough.

"I don't know how everyone else has held up," says Havens, who anticipates meeting up with earlier competitors. "It will be interesting to find out how a bunch of 60-year-olds race. I can push hard for 5,000 meters. If someone's going to beat me, they're going to have to push."