In the end, it didn't really matter that Riggs National Bank had hoped to be the most important competitor in the most important city in the world, or that E.F. Hutton was talking but nobody was listening, or that AT&T Information Systems was split up over who should enter which events.
Because after two days in the sun, with unlimited free beer, American Security Bank beat those and other teams representing Washington-area companies to capture its third victory in the Washington-area Battle of the Corporate Stars. More than 850 competitors and hundreds of spectators gathered at Mount Vernon College in Northwest last weekend to participate in the "Battle," which featured a variety of contests, ranging from the serious, such as a 50-yard freestyle swim, to the silly, such as a 100-yard relay race with participants wearing swimming fins.
Sponsored nationally by Bud Light and Plymouth, and locally by Xerox and American Security, the 13-city series of corporate fitness competitions raises money for charity. In this area, funds go to the Special Olympics.
For the third straight year, American Security won the right to represent the Washington area at the national finals, held this year on Oct. 24 to 27 at South Padre Island, Tex.
American Security has become the New York Yankees of the Washington contest -- everyone loves to hate them because they always win. That sentiment probably runs especially deep among the people at Riggs.
"We're both banks, so we wanted to beat them," said Lynne Friedman of Leesburg, Va., a 32-year-old benefits administrator at Riggs. "They are our major competition in the marketplace and in this competition . . . We all take it seriously but sure I think it's frustrating. You have to give them all the credit in the world."
Those bank people love to talk about credit. And they have an interest in corporate fitness. Eight of the 33 competing corporations were banks. Five placed in the top 10. Also, four major accounting firms competed; two placed in the top three.
While some contended that the winning companies were the most physically fit, many of the participants disagreed, because one third of the 21 events require practice rather than pure athletic ability.
"We key on the joke events such as the balloon race," said Beth Stegner, 24, a portfolio manager at American Security. "You don't have to be a talented athlete."
Other unusual events include the popular Surfin' USA, which requires athletes to lie on a surfboard-like raft in the swimming pool and use the butterfly stroke to maneuver. For the Bakin' 'n' Eggs Relay, four teammates take turns swimming across the pool while holding an egg in a cup out of the water.
"It's a tough one to call," said Roger Conner, 36, team coach and vice president of corporate communication at American Security. "This is one event which addresses mostly running and swimming, but there are more events like tennis, skiing and aerobics. There is no way to judge who is the most fit here."
Said Riggs' Friedman: "We're all fit here. It's practice . . . Once you get here, your better athletes are going to be fit. There are enough fun events to equal things out. You don't have to be the best runner or swimmer."
Why are financial institutions -- the banks and accounting firms -- more successful at the "Battle" competition than other industries?
"It's interesting that the banks do so well," said American Security's Conner. Banks "have a wide range of employes. We have a lot of entry-level jobs such as tellers and data processing clerks which bring in younger people. Plus banks attract a lot of business graduates who are still in competitive shape and good at sports.
"Banks have a good balance. They have young people and some older people with good skills. And they get swimmers from colleges like Yale and Duke who are usually still young enough to be competitive." American Security showed impressive skill, racking up 145 points during the first day -- which is geared toward track and field events -- for a 55-point first-day lead over Xerox and Suburban Bank. American Security collected another 155 during the second day -- which is geared toward swimming -- for a total of 300 points.But unlike the past victories, the outcome of this year's competition went down to the wire.
Going into the final event, the Tug-o'-War, American Security held a 250-to-215 margin over accounting firm Booz-Allen, with Arthur Andersen accountants another 10 points back. With a first place worth 50 points and a second worth 35, either challenger could have won if American Security didn't place in the top four.
"American Security thinks about the competition 12 months a year," said Dan Snyder, founder of the 3-year-old national series of corporate competitions. "Same with all the winning teams. I find that in life, too. The people who are successful think about their careers all the time. They know just when to practice and how much to practice."
And they know how to tug a rope. American Security, the 1983 National Tug Champion, clinched the title when AT&T knocked out Booz-Allen in the second round, then went face-to-face with Arthur Anderson in the semifinals and First American in the finals to win the event. Arthur Andersen placed second to American Security for the third straight year with 225 points and Booz-Allen was third with 215. Xerox took fourth with 185 points and Riggs was fifth with 120.
Though Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Co. failed to make the final eight teams (it finished 11th with 45 points), one of its auditors, 30-year-old Jeff Oliver of Fairfax, insisted that his team had the biggest banner and the largest number of spectators.
"It's definitely competitive," said Oliver, as one of his colleagues spelled out P-E-A-T to encourage senior accountant Debbie Bunker, 24, of Silver Spring, who was doing the Frisbee Toss. "If we don't beat anyone else, we want to beat Arthur Andersen. They are clearly one of our biggest competitors. We are the two biggest accounting firms in the city and internationally. We don't care if American Security wins. They're one of our clients."