John Gregorek overcame Ross Donoghue and ended a 16-year tradition, giving Georgetown the distance medley relay championship at the 88th Penn Relays today.

Gregorek, 30 meters behind when he took the baton in fourth place, caught Donoghue at the gun and raced past him on the final turn to end Villanova's 16-year winning streak in the event.

Gregorek, the World University Games steeplechase champion, was timed in 3:55.1. It was his career best and the fastest 1,600-meter split in Penn Relays history as Georgetown ran the second-fastest time here, 9:26.16. Other members of the Hoya relay team, which took a rare victory lap afterward, were Rich Caton, 2:57.5 for 1,200; Aubrey McKithen, 47.5 for 400, and Brian McNelis, 1:46.1 for 800.

Caton, a half-miler, ran the leadoff 1,200 for the first time as a collegian. He replaced Kevin King, who was found to have mononucleosis on Tuesday.

"We decided to take a chance on Caton and go with our four toughest kids out there," said Georgetown Coach Joe Lang. "They ran tough, too, about as well as they could on every leg."

"I never thought we were out of it," Gregorek said. "Donoghue was out by himself and it's hard to keep your pace. It was sort of like chasing a rabbit and I had something to shoot for.

"As the laps went on, even though the gap was getting shorter, it still seemed awfully far. Whatever I did, I wanted to run 58-second quarters and make it up in three laps, then move with 150 to go. If I caught him too soon, I would have had to sit behind him and break up my pace."

Richmond's Sosthenes Bitok and Arkansas' Randy Stephens also made up the deficit and, when Gregorek heard footsteps on the final turn, he went hard. It was Stephens, the NCAA indoor 1,000-yard champion, who brought Arkansas home third with a 3:57.1 leg. Richmond was fourth, with Bitok clocked at 3:55.8.

"I thought it was Bit," Gregorek said. "I thought I had a better kick than Bitok, but if I'd known it was Stephens, I might have worried a little. I figured it was time to move, anyway. I couldn't let anyone past me, because if he'd got by, I would have had to go around two runners, and I don't think I could have made it.

"I kept telling myself that this was the last time and it wasn't Sydney Maree in front, so I should just put my head down and go. Coach Lang told me not to race against all those other anchor legs, just Ross Donoghue. We wanted to be the first to break that streak."

The other Hoyas were concerned primarily with keeping it close enough to give Gregorek a chance.

"I was worried about staying close enough to keep us in it," said Caton, seventh when he passed off to McKithen. "We talked all week about keeping it close enough for John to win on the anchor. John just does anything he has to do to win."

Only once before, Gregorek said, had he come from so far back to win. That was here in 1978, when he won the high school distance medley for St. Anthony's of Smithtown, N.Y. The man he caught that day was McKithen, the anchorman for Trenton (N.J.).

"Not today," said Donoghue, head down, after his 4:00.1 anchor.

Georgetown was not the only Washington-area team celebrating today. Central High of Seat Pleasant, Md., won the girls championship 4x400-meter relay, setting a Relays record of 3:42.71 in the process.

Although she had the slowest split (56.5), Pam Carter turned back a tough challenge by Vere Tech of Jamaica (N.Y.) on the third leg, and left Karen Woods with nothing to worry about but the clock as Woods anchored in 55.1. Robin Benjamin led off in 55.7 and Pam Gaddy was clocked in 55.3 for the second leg.

Central (47.18) was second behind Vere Tech's meet-record 46.25 in the girls' championship 4x100 relay. Coolidge placed third in 48.01 and T.C. Williams was fourth in 48.30.

Central had qualified for the 4x800-meter championship, but withdrew since three girls had run on all three teams.

"One win at the Penn Relays is great," said Central Coach Ed Bowie. "Trying for three was maybe too much, and we could have got nothing, so we came out of the weakest one. Pam Carter ran a brilliant race, let the Vere girl come and then exhausted her. That was the key."

In the high school boys' 4x100-meter relay qualifying, Luis Morales of Oxon Hill (Md.) made up a five-meter deficit to beat an Overbrook team from Philadelphia that already had confidently given the No. 1 signal after the final handoff. Oxon Hill's 43.0 was not good enough to gain the championship final, however.

The only Washington-area team to advance to Saturday's championship race was H.D. Woodson. The quartet of Lionel Jackson, John O'Brien, Terry Moore and Thomas Woodruff was timed at 42.8.

T.C. Williams was timed at 43.2; Ballou and Fort Hunt, 43.5; Fairmont Heights, 43.6; Spingarn, 43.7; Good Counsel, 43.9, and Anacostia, 44.0. Gonzaga's Greg Coan was third in the high school 1,500 at 3:56.5, with Brian Stratton of Largo fourth, 3:56.9.

George Mason was a surprise finalist for Saturday's college 4x100-meter championship, qualifying in 41.64. Howard qualified for the 4x200 with 1:25.7 and the 4x400 at 3:09.3