If the remainder of the indoor track season can match the excitement of Saturday's Olympic Invitational meet at New Jersey's Byrne Meadowlands Arena, it will be a rewarding winter for track fans.

On performance, the standout was Carl Lewis, who leaped 28 feet 1 inch on his only fair jump to become the first man to better 28 feet indoors in the long jump.

The comeback award had to go to Billy Olson, who set an American indoor record of 18-6 in the pole vault. A year ago, Olson broke his left wrist in a gymnastics accident and has been forced to endure torturous exercises to rebuild it for the demanding vault competition.

For sheer drama, there was no matching the marathon man, Alberto Salazar. He fell on the second lap of the 5,000 meters, pushed by Solomon Chebor, who had been bumped by another runner.

Salazar got up in last place but within three laps he had regained the lead and went on to win, less than three seconds off the world indoor record, while the crowd of 12,110 stood and saluted his courage.

In the upset department, Jeanette Bolden earned highest marks by winning the 55-meter dash over Chandra Cheeseborough and third-place Evelyn Ashford, the No. 1 sprinter in the world.

Probably the most remarkable performance, however, was turned in by Fred Sowerby, the track coach at Maryland-Eastern Shore. At age 33, when most runners are content to embellish previous exploits for their children, Sowerby ran a personal best 1:05.51 to set a meet record in the 500 meters.

Only Herman Frazier, on a 200-meter banked track at Long Beach, and Mark Enyeart, on the 220-yard banked oval at Louisville, have run faster. Sowerby posted his time on a 160-meter track with much tighter turns. He also beat an outstanding field that included Enyeart, Ed Yearwood, Walter McCoy, Anthony Tufariello and Mike Solomon.

Sowerby, an Olympian from Antigua who once worked in a Washington bank and still coaches the D.C. International team, offered a number of reasons for his high level of performance so early in the season, so late in a runner's life.

"I'm becoming an American citizen and I'd like to make one U.S. team before I'm through," he said. "I've been training a little harder and I got some extra incentive when the Nike guy told me I'm not good enough to wear their shoes.

"I want to motivate the kids at Maryland-Eastern Shore, too. They're good guys with no scholarships and if I win, they'll try to win. Then there's one more thing. Everybody thinks I'm too old. I just wish there was somebody here to push me. I think I could have gotten that record."

Many in Antigua were stunned by Sowerby's decision to become an American citizen and no longer represent the Caribbean country. He thinks they have no quarrel.

"They were upset, but I paid my dues," he said. "When I ran for Antigua in the World Cup in 1977, I paid my way to Mexico to make the team. I paid my way to Montreal for the Olympics in 1976 and took two other guys and I was never paid back.

"I enjoyed running for Antigua, that's where I'm from. But I'm living here, my future is here and I want to be a coach. I might as well be a U.S. citizen. They've done more for me."

Instead of celebrating in New York yesterday, or going to Chicago for the next indoor meet, Sowerby was back at Princess Anne, Md., by 1 p.m., fulfilling his duties as assistant director of student activities at Maryland-Eastern Shore. It is that job that feeds Sowerby, his wife and four children. But it makes for a tight training schedule and limits his involvement with D.C. International.

"What I'm thinking is grad school at a major university. I like coaching but I need a graduate degree to coach at a big school. The chancellor at Maryland-Eastern Shore has been good to me and I recruited a lot of the kids there and I don't want to leave, but I think I've got a lot to offer as a major college coach."

With Oliver Bridges running a 47.1 third leg, Howard's 4 x 400-meter relay team upset Seton Hall and Villanova in 3:13. Other members of the Bison quartet were David Charlton, Bernard Oliver and Ed Simms . . . Although Richmond won the 4 x 800-meter relay, the fastest split was turned in by Virginia's Ray Brown, 1:48.5