Craig Virgin, who spent his college career at Illinois as the traditional "first American" without ever winning an NCAA track title, becomes America's No. 1 distance runner today.

Virgin, running by himself after his opposition declined his invitation to set a fast pace, smashed Steve Prefontaine's U.S. record by 4.2 seconds with a 27:39.4 clocking in the 10,000 meters at the National AAU Track and Field Championships.

In another highlight, Steve Scott reminded Don Paige and the media that he is America's best in the middle distances with his third straight AAU 1,500-meter victory in a meet-record 3:36.40.

Edwin Moses destroyed the field in the 400- hurdles with a time of 47.89 seconds, fastest of the year and only 44 hundredths off his world record.

It was a breezy, chilly day and the wind contributed to some amazing performances.

Ron Livers was helped along to the second-best triple jump of all time, 57 feet 7 1/2 inches, bettering an earlier wind-aided leap of 57-2 1/4 by Willie Banks. Third-place James Butts' American record is 56-5 1/2.

Evelyn Ashford, the American record-setter in Saturday's 100 meters (10.97), won the 200 today in 22.07 seconds. The wind was only slightly over the allowable 4.473 miles per hour, so there is little doubt that Ashford soon will erase Brenda Morehead's American mark of 22.60.

Most of the sprint-oriented crowd of 10,627 was either gone or noticeably going when the runners lined up for the 10,000. They missed a great performance, but no competition, as Ric Rojas, Frank Shorter and companions were a half-lap behind by the 6,000 meter mark.

"Nobody in U.S. wants to run fast," Virgin said. "They're afraid to go out and set a good pace. I asked, 'Can you help me out with 66 or 67 (second) laps at least?' But they said it was suicided. They set barriers. I'm trying to uninhibit myself and not hold back.

"You have to be ready to run in the low 30s (Henry Rono's world record is 27.22.5) to be competitive in the Olympic Games. I want to bring American distance running back up with the Europeans. The American record has been may goal for nine months and the last 24-hours were hell, because I was scared whether everything had been wasted.

"I was hurting bad with eight laps to go and the last two laps I was mentally kicking myself, telling me that i didn't have it. But if you want it bad enough, you have to go out and get it."

Virgin struggled through the last lap in 61.4 seconds to achieve his goal. Scott blazed through the final quarter of the a1,500 in 53.9 to hold off Paige by eight yards and said, "I had a lot of incentive today because of all the press Paige has received the past few weeks. Paige is a great runner and he really had a great year, but Steve Ovett (the Briton ranked No. 1) has been my goal all along."

The 1,500 was marred by two falls involving 1976 Olympian Mike Durkin. After Durkin went down about 60 yards from the start, a recall was ordered. Then, at about the same location on the second lap, Durkin became tangled with Mark Belger and both fell.

The first notable exodus of fans began just before the start of the women's 3,000 meters. Those folks missed a remarkable effort by Francis Larrieu, who completed a distance double by winning that event less than two hours after she took the 1,500.

Each race was a thriller. In the 1,500 Larrieu battled past pace-setting Mary Decker in the stretch to win in a meet-record 4:06.53 with Julie Brown third and Jan Merrill fourth.

Merrill, who won the same two races a year ago, led most of the way in the 3,000 with Larrieu on her shoulder. Brown made a move from third place on the backstretch and Larrieu, boxed, was knocked off stride. She recovered, however, and pulled ahead of Merrill down the stretch for a two-yard victory in another meet record, 8:53.79.

Brown deserved some kind of special medal. Within a two-hour period, she placed third in the 1,500 second in the 800 and third in the 3,000.

Willie Smith, who whipped Alberto Juantorena in April, continued his 400-meter dominance by posting the fastest time in the world this year, 45.10. He needed it to defeat Tony Darden by a stride.

Bill Green, a recent graduate of Cubberly High in Palo Alto, Calif., set a national high school record of 45.51 while finishing third and Maurice Peoples of D.C. International was fourth in 45.64.

Dwayne Evans, the 1976 Olympic bronze medallist, came back from obscurity with a solid 20.28 time to capture the 200 meters. Cliff Wiley of D.C. Intertional was third in 20.44. James Sanford, the 100 winner who is even better at 200, skipped the longer race because of a sore leg.

Dave Laut of UCLA uncorked his lifetime best throw of 69-3 1/4 on his final attempt to pull out the shot put title over Al Feuerbach. Ian Pyka of Maryland was seventh with a career best of 64-11 3/4.

James Robinson, who beat Paige in a close 800 a week ago, stormed from his usual spot in the rear to take that event in 1:45.82. Jim DeRienzo of Georgetown was seventh in 1:48.93.

Debbie Brill of Canada set a meet record of 6-4 in the womenhs high jump. Paula Girven of Maryland cleared a 5-10 3/4 to share sixth place and teammate Jalene Chase tied for ninth at 5-9 1/4.

Mike Tully won the polse vault at 18 feet 1/2 inch, but was upset because "this is the kind of wind where you set world record." Billy olson, second on fewer misses, was clearing 18 for the first time.

Kate Schmidt won the women's javelin by 27 feet at 206-1.