Washington area whitewater canoe and kayak racers get a chance to take on the best in the world again this weekend as 150 paddlers from 16 countries converge on the Savage River in Western Maryland.

The three-day event includes the U.S. Wildwater National Championships today, followed by slalom World Cup competition Saturday and Sunday. Competitors are led by Bethesda's Jon Lugbill, who won an unprecedented fifth world title in slalom canoeing last year when the World Championships were staged at the Savage, the first Worlds ever held in the United States.

First, however, comes today's wildwater event, a 4 1/2-mile plunge for 26 competitors down the cold, foaming river near Bloomington, Md. Andy Bridge of Germantown, Md., is heavily favored. He has dominated World Cup wildwater competition all season, winning all four races on the European circuit. And Bridge, 27, considers the Savage his home river, having run it over 100 times.

While the wildwater event is for U.S. nationals, slalom racing Saturday and Sunday will include 19 French, 16 Canadians, 11 West Germans, 10 racers each from Australia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and smaller contingents from Great Britain, Yugoslavia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

Slalom racing is on a 600-yard course through gates, much like slalom skiing, and has been designated an Olympic medal sport for the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Lugbill, 28, and Dave Hearn, 31, are shooting for the Olympics after dominating the sport for the last decade. They race at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in men's solo canoe, followed by women's slalom kayak featuring the 1989 silver medalist, Washingtonian Dana Chladek, who will race against Myriam Jerusalmi of France, who beat her last year for the World Championship.