The largest field of foreign athletes in the meet's history will challenge America's best tonight in the Olympian-studded 10th edition of the National Invitational indoor track competition at Cole Field House.

Foreigners are listed in every invitational event on the men's program except the high jump. Several are clear-cut favorites, including miler Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland and two miler Nick Rose of Great Britain

Two men from behind the Iron Curtain, Wojciech Buciarski of Poland and Yuri Prokhoryenko of the Soviet Union, are members of an elite six-man pole-vault field that opens the major phase of competition at 7:30 p.m. The American competitors include defending champion Dan Ripley, indoor record holder at 183 3/4; Earl bell, who has leaped 18-7 1/4 outdoors; Robert Pullard, bidding to become the first black over 18 feet, and Mike Tully of UCLA.

"I have a 50-50 chance of 18 feet," said Ripley, who won here last year at 18-1 1/4. "In the vault you can't say, you'll do it. It's too up in the air (pause for laughter). If you make 18 feet, the record would only be four inches higher. That's not much higher. The problem with going for a record is that you think you need a perfect vault and you press too much. You should continue vaulting the way you are."

Ripley apparently has things figures out. Last year he attempted indoor records in seven meets, and succeeded four times.

This year there is more of Ripley, at 195 pounds, and he will try new, heavier poles for the first time tonight. That means a higher grip and greater record potential.

The other leaping event, the high jump, will double its appeal with a women's competition included for the first time, Maryland freshman Paula Girven, the Olympic Trials winner at 6-1 3/4, will battle American record holder Joni Huntley, fifth at Montreal, and Andrea Bruce of Jamaica.

Dwight Stones, the indoor record holder at 7-6 1/2 heads the men's section, which features the entire U.S. Olympic representation - Stones, Bill Jankunits and James Barrineau.

Two local products, George Watts of Edison and Tennessee, and George Malley of DuVal and Penn State, challenge Rose and fellow Briton Tony Stayings in the two-mile-run.

Coghlan, the Villanovan who wore Ireland's green to fourth place in the Olympic 1,500, will defend his mile crown against Thomas Wessinghage of West Germany, Vittorio Fontanella of Italy and U.S. Olympian Mike Durkin.

Carlo Grippo of Italy, a Montreal finalist, battles the Villanova graduate-student punch of Ken Schappert and Mark Belger, two-three here a year ago, in a competitive 880 that also lists the Florida-based pair of Jamaican Byron Dyce and Kenyan Wesley Maiyo.

The 500 is possibly the most loaded event with Edwin Moses, the Olympic 400-meter hurdles champion, facing 409-meter bronze medalist Herman Frazier, Mike Sands of the Bahamas and Stan Vinson, the D.C. Strider who is in super shape and ready for an assault on the indoor record of 54.4 that Lee Evans set here in 1971.

Fred Sowerby, the Antigua Olympian who works for a D.C. bank, meet Clifton Perry, the Menchville grad attending Mesa (Ariz) College, and Clif Mckenzie, of Ballou and Arizona, State, in the 600.

Willie Davenport, the four-time Olympian, duels Charles Foster in the high hurdles, while Olympic 400-meter gold-medal relay teammates Harvey Glance and Steve Riddick are the class of the 60.

Robin Campbell, recovered from the stress fracture that ruined her Olympic hopes, will attempt a double tonight in the women's 440 and 880. Her quarter competition is toughest, led by Barbados Olympian Lorna Forde and Soviet 200-meter finalist Tatyana Prorochenko.

West Germany's Brigitte Kraus challenge defender Francis Larrieu Lutz in the mile and teammate Elvira Possekel is among the 60 favorite-Olympian Sheila Ingram, now attending Federal City, is another sprint entry.

Although the relays were weakened by Maryland's absence, the mile duel between Howard and Villanova is most promising. Georgetown and Richmond are threats to Villanova in the two-mile event.

Invitational events, with best amateur indoor performance, meet record and leading competitots.