BLOOMINGTON, MD., JULY 7 -- Bethesda's Jon Lugbill squelched speculation he might be taking it easy this year on the whitewater racing circuit, hammering out a walloping six-second win over 29 rivals from 12 countries in World Cup slalom canoe action today.

"He may be trying to lay back," said U.S. whitewater team manager Caroline Klam, "but I'm not sure he's capable of it."

"Lugbill did it again," sighed timekeeper Lee Martin as she posted the winning time at the foot of the race course on the rumbling Savage River. "He bettered his first run by four seconds. That man is incredible."

Lugbill's time of 188.14 seconds for the 600-yard run through 25 slalom gates easily beat silver medalist Gareth Marriott of Great Britain's 194.00. Lugbill's neighbor and longtime rival, Dave Hearn, was third in 194.12. Lugbill also had the second-best time of the day, a 191.68 on his first run.

The speculation about the five-time world champion taking this as a rest year stems from the fact it's an off year for the biennial World Championships, which resume in 1991 in Yugoslavia, to be followed by whitewater slalom canoeing's first appearance in the Olympics in 20 years at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

Even U.S. whitewater team coach Bill Endicott conceded, "If there ever was a time to take a break, this is the year."

Lugbill, who had buried the competition by an astounding 12 seconds at last year's World Championships here, had some low moments this spring. He barely made the four-boat U.S. team after flipping his boat twice in team trials in May, then missed one of his two scheduled runs at a race in Durango, Colo., in June when he went bowling and failed to return to the site on time.

That led many in the racing community to conclude that Lugbill, 28, was off his decade-long, world-beating pace.

"He is not as combative," said veteran French racer Thierry Humeau, bronze medalist in the 1989 Worlds, during practice here Friday. "Maybe he is too much into the family life now, with the wife, the house, the baby on the way, the job, the dog."

"Everyone would agree he's not as solid, as sure-fire any more," said Dave Hearn's sister, kayaker Cathy Hearn. "He's working, training, and now the baby's coming. He's got a lot on his mind."

Lugbill works full time for the Metropolitan Area Council of Governments in Washington as an environmental specialist on rivers, and his wife Gill expects a baby in the fall.

But Lugbill showed little sign of preoccupation with any outside matters today as he came crashing down the Savage course with typical abandon, thundering through standing waves, down rushing chutes and across slick eddies in his lightweight, decked canoe.

It was not as commanding a performance as he had in last year's Worlds here, when his second run was regarded by many as the finest whitewater slalom canoe performance in history. But it was plenty strong.

"My first run was a little slow," he said, "but that {the second one} was good. It was a tough course to make up time on because it's so easy this year. You could only make up a few tenths of a second with a good move, rather than two or three seconds."

Lugbill was disappointed in lower water levels on the river this year, the result of an Army Corps of Engineers recalibration of machinery at the dam from which whitewater for racing is released.

The rougher the water, the more the muscular Lugbill likes it. But even with lower levels than last year's, which should have drawn finishing times closer for everyone, the rest of the top paddlers bunched up a half-dozen seconds behind him, with the second- through sixth-place boats all coming in between 194 and 195.22 seconds. How did Lugbill account for the disparity?

"I had some trouble this spring," he said, "but now it's race season and I'm having a good year, there's no doubt."

Lugbill won the first World Cup race of the season last week at Wausau, Wis., but Hearn was close behind, just over a second slower. The racers now get a three-week rest before the World Cup season concludes with three races in Europe in August.

Said Lugbill, in a concession to the grueling two years upcoming, "I'm focusing on World Cup races only this year. It's good to focus, but you have to come out of this fresh because the next two years are what counts. The neat thing about the Olympics is it provides a great motivation."

In the only other competition today, French World Champion women's kayaker Myriam Jerusalmi duplicated her winning performance of last year here, dispatching Dana Chladek of Cabin John, last year's silver medalist, who was second again. Third went to Jerusalmi's teammate, Anne Boixel.

Jerusalmi's first run of 203.14 held up for the win. Chladek was 3.4 seconds behind at 206.43 on her second run.

Racing resumes at 12:30 Sunday with men's kayak racing, featuring four-time world champion Richard Fox of Great Britain, and two-man slalom canoe racing.

RESULTS

Men's canoe -- 1, Jon Lugbill, Bethesda, 188.14 seconds; 2, Gareth Marriott, Great Britain, 194.00; 3, Dave Hearn, Bethesda, 194.12.

Women's kayak -- 1, Myriam Jerusalmi, France, 203.14; 2, Dana Chladek, Cabin John, 206.43; 3, Anne Boixel, France, 207.23.