Tony Darden covered the 400 meters in 45.02 seconds, fastest time in the world this year, to sound a positive note today in a National Sports Festival track competion buffeted by cold rain and hot air.

Liz Young of the University of D.C. successfully defended her title in the women's 200 meters minutes before a thunderstorm roared in from the Rockies.Wind blew down the pole vault standards and a chilling rain sent athletes and spectators running for cover.

Warming things up was an angry Bob Kane, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who termed a "cheap shot" an Associated Press story that intimated a number of athletes failed to appear for the Festival because corporate sponsors did not produce promished "payoffs."

"It's dreadful to think corporate sponsors would have anthing to do with greasing the palms of these kids," Kane said. "And the implication that the USOC would have taken care of them except that there were too many is absolutely ridiculous.

"Money from corporate sponsorships is given directly to the USOC, which distributes it to the national governing bodies to underwrite training camps and send people to the Pan Am Games and the Olympics. There is no direct disbursement to athletes by the USOC."

Darden, who beat Alberto Juantorena in the recent Pan Am Games, was running a personal best while runner-up Herman Frazier clocked 45.11 for his fastes time since he ran 44.95 for third in the 1976 Olympics. Walter McCoy was third in 45.18.

"I didn't think it was that fast," said Darden, who is back at Arizona State, where Frazier is assistant athletic director, $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE after withdrawing temporarily. "I've been off two weeks and I didn't know what kind of race to expect.

"I'm starting to be more aware of myself, I know myself better as an individual and I'm able to feel myself out, react to certain things while I'm running. I left Arizona State because I was disappointed in the way I was running and I felt I had to prove to myself that I wasn't finished."

Young, running in the outside lane, nipped Wanda Hooker as both were caught in a hand-timed 23.6 seconds.

"It's tough to run on the outside because you can't judge the distance and it's hard to tell where everyone is," Young said. "My coach always tells me just to run like crazy, so that's what I did. I saw Wanda moving up and I just had to drive and hope I would beat her. I had at the finish."

That race was completed as raindrops started falling. The gun was up for the men's 200 when the sorm hit in full force, sending everone in a frantic dash for cover.

Remaining events were postponed until Monday, except for two decathlon contests, the high jump and 400 meters. The decathlon high jump also was contested indoors a year ago, when a hailstorm wiped out the second day of track competition.

Earlier, Olympian Charles tfoster captured the 110-meter high hurdles in 13.79 seconds. It was Foster's first race at altitude since he won the Junior Olympics title here in 1970.

Both Jeff Buckingham and Greg Woepse cleared 17 feet 4 3/4 inches in the pole vault and Buckingham won on fewer misses when the event was terminated, since both men wished to fly out tonight.

The marathon winner was Barney Kleoker of Chaska, Minn., who confessed to being winded after a brisk 30-minute walk following his arrival Saturday.

Lisa-Marie Allen of Garden Grove, Calif., employed a graceful but conservative free skating performance to win the gold medal in women's figure skating, and three-time national champion Charlie Tickner overtook Scott Cramer for the men's title. CAPTION: Picture, Liz Young of Washington is congratulated by her coach, Larry Wilson, after winning the 200-meter dash in 23.6 seconds at the National Sports Festival in Colorado Springs. AP