BLOOMINGTON, MD., JULY 6 -- They had to run the U.S. National Wildwater Championships without Kathy Bolyn today, but watching from the banks of the Savage River on her new crutches suited her fine.

"I'm just glad to be here," said Bolyn, 37, who on Wednesday survived a hair-raising, half-hour ordeal pinned against a fallen tree. Her kayak crushed her legs and the force of the river threatened to pull her under until fellow paddlers cut her free.

Bolyn's close call -- the closest she has seen in 18 years of avid river-running -- reflects the perils of moving water and the power of rivers, even for experts at the top of their sport.

"We're very fortunate," said Don Storck, executive director of this weekend's Maryland International Canoe-Kayak Classic. "If the boat was pinned the other way . . ."

"It was very bad," agreed chief race official Mike Fetchero. "There's no question it could have been fatal."

The fallen tree lay across half the river just below Memorial Rock, the toughest rapids on the 4 1/2-mile wildwater course. Bolyn barely cleared it on her first practice run Wednesday, then had trouble staying on line the second time down.

When she was washed into the tree and pinned to it by the rushing water, Bolyn -- for 16 years a paddling instructor at Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina -- knew she was in a bad jam.

The river pressure buckled the bow and stern ends of the boat around her, crushing her legs inside. Bolyn clung to the tree to keep her head up while nearby boaters rushed to help. Washingtonian Paul Grabow clambered out on the tree to support her.

Rescue strategies involved getting a rope onto an end of the boat to pull it free, but both ends were already submerged. Long minutes were spent on analysis before kayaker Mary Hipsher spied a house nearby and ran for help.

The homeowner had a saw for tree limbs, which was ferried out to Grabow, who hacked away at the limb until Bolyn's boat washed free.

She was taken by helicopter to Cumberland Hospital, where doctors found torn ligaments and tendons in one knee and deep bruises in the other, but no bones broken.

What was scariest, Bolyn said, was that she and others knew after the first practice run it was a dangerous situation, a classic "river strainer" just below a bad rapids, "but we went right back down like lemmings to the sea."

Race officials cut the tree away Wednesday evening and there were no further incidents.

In the sparsely attended start of the U.S. championships today, Andy Bridge of Germantown continued his domination of men's wildwater canoeing with an easy 47-second victory over Yugoslav Andrej Grobisa, racing as a guest.

Bridge has won all three World Cup wildwater races in Europe this year, and Grobisa said the Marylander is clearly the best wildwater canoeist in the world now -- better even than Grobisa's countryman Andrej Zelenc, the defending world champion.

But Bridge, seventh in last year's World Championships here, said the run disappointed him because the water level was down considerably from last year and he could not compare his times to gauge his improvement.

In other classes, Andy Corra of Seattle won the men's kayak competition by 10 seconds over Edward McCarthy of Falls Village, Conn.; David Jones and Mike Hipsher of Bryson City, N.C., won two-man canoe, and Jill Runnion of Millers Falls, Conn., was first in women's kayak.

World Cup slalom racing opens Saturday as five-time world canoeing champion Jon Lugbill of Bethesda squares off against longtime rival Dave Hearn, and 1989 world silver medalist Dana Chladek of Cabin John faces gold medalist Myriam Jerusalmi of France in women's kayak.

Slalom racing concludes Sunday with two-man canoe and men's kayak.RESULTS

Men's kayak -- 1, Andy Corra, Seattle, 23 minutes 46.38 seconds; 2, Edward McCarthy, Falls Village, Conn., 35:56.47; 3, Nelson Oldham, Washington, 26:09.17.

Two-man canoe -- 1, David Jones-Mike Hipsher, Bryson City, N.C., 25:43.01; 2, John Pinyard-Martin Bay, Atlanta, 25:44.56; 3, Jamie McEwan-Lecky Haller, Falls Village, Conn., 31:57.9.

Women's kayak -- 1, Jill Runnion, Millers Falls, Conn., 27:29.95; 2, Mary Hipsher, Bryson City, N.C., 27:34.92; 3, Karen Kolan, Ellicott City, 28:22.75.

Men's canoe -- 1, Andy Bridge, Germantown, 25:43.43; 2, Wayne Dickert, Bryson City, N.C., 26:43.08; 3, Kent Ford, Bryson City, N.C., 26:51.97. (The time of Andrej Grobisa of Yugoslavia, 26:30.57, was unofficial in these U.S. national races.)