"Let's go, Claude! Let's go, baby!" screamed Roy Fagin at the finish line of the 50-meter dash at the Gallaudet College track yesterday.

Seconds later Claude, a short, stocky man with curly hair, proudly bounded across the line.

"You're No. 1! You're No. 1!" the crowd cheered as Claude, 27, proudly accepted his fifth-place ribbon.

He was one of about 900 competitors yesterday at the 13th Special Olympics for retarded and handicapped persons. The event is sponsored annually in the District, the 50 states and 33 countries under the direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and Special Olympics Inc. The D.C. Olympics began Friday and will end today.

More than 2,000 volunteers work on the event. Many give their time because the Olympics asre so important to the competitors, who range in age from 4 years to more than 60.

Claude's coach, Fagin, said that weeks before the event, Claude began asking, "What am I running?"

"He enjoys it so much," said Fagin, a 28-year-old aquatics instructor at the D.C. Occupational Training Center.

He added that Claude isn't usually verbal, and seaks "kind of a language without language. He says something to me and I read it in his face . . . I believe before the Special Olympics came along, they may not have had that dream of being somebody, of being a winner."

"When they're participating in these things, they don't realize they're handicapped or retarded, that there's a whole world of nonhandicapped people," he said. "They don't realize that today. This is their world."

The Special Olympics were founded in 1968, and are part of a national, year-round program that involves more than 250,000 volunteers.

This was the fifth, sixth or even 12th competition for many participants, who competed in Nike track shoes and official U.s. Olympic track suits donated by a sponsor.

Athletes and volunteers rooted for all participants and took part in spontaneous cheerleading.

In one corner, a group of young people began a chant that quickly became a hand-clapping, 60 voice chorus.

"Everywhere we go,

"People want to know,

"Who we are.

"So we tell them.

"We are the Eagles.

"The mighty, mighty Eagles.

"Go mighty Eagles, go."

Then they laughed and jogged toward the grandstand.

Some of the most excited participants were those competing for the first time.

"You won! You won!" a grinning volunteer in a red T-shirt an shorts screamed as 4-year-old Lacquon Cristwell collapsed in her arms. He stood barely three feet tall, a sturdy, handsome child. He can say only a few words, but at that moment he spoke eloquently with his eyes and a gentle smile.

"This is our first time out here," said Lacquon's mother surrounded by an army of relatives. Emotionally, she described her son's progress since entering the Child Developmental Service Center three months ago. He now can speak a few words -- milk, cookies, stop, goodbye -- and he's won a gold medal in sports.

"It's sort of hard when a parent realizes there's something wrong with a child," she said. "I used to say, 'He's going to gow out it. That he may be a little slow.'"

Her mother finally convinced her to get help for the child, she said. "They said by next year he should be talking in short sentences. I feel relieved that I finally got him into something that will help him."

Extending a helping hand is the essence of the Special Olympics, and in the District it has become a community event, said Dennis Baker, president of the local board supervising the event. Sporting goods dealers have donated equipment, food chains have donated foot and city and federal government employes have donated their time to train the youngsters in swimming, track and field, soccer and other events.

Postmaster General William Bolger volunteered as "a hugger with the pantathletes last year," he said. Helen Dean, a clerk with C&P Telephone, volunteered for the first time this year. "I've been cheering all day," she said.

"People have gotten more involved because I think they care," said Delores Woods, a volunteer who handed out medals and hugs.

"It (the Olympics) makes your year, not just your day," Woods said.

Snaking through he crowd, Ben Johnson, program director at Forest Haven, the city's institution for the mentally retarded, led three elderly men back to their seats. The youngest is 54, the oldest 68. They had just won track medals.

On this hot and muggy day, the symbolic Olympic flame blazed as announcers Hank Hunter aned Newt Woods -- the voices of the Special Olympics for thee years -- announced that Regina, a young woman from Forest Haven, had just won a gold medal. As the announcers called her name, she threw her head back and began to jump up and down, yelling gleefully: "I won! I won!" CAPTION:

Picture, Lacquon Cristwell, is congratulated by his family after a race. By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post