With the title of "World's Fastest Human" at stake, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson renew their intense sprint rivalry as the long-awaited track and field competition begins at the Olympic Games.

The showdown between the ebullient American and the shy Canadian is among the first of a series of headline events in what should be the best Olympic track competition at least since 1976.This is the first time in three Olympics that all of the world's top three track and field powers - the Soviet Union, United States and East Germany - are entered.

Lewis and Johnson, both exuding supreme confidence, are set to run preliminary 100-meter heats Friday, the first day of track competition at the 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium. Because of the time difference that will be Thursday night in the United States.

The semifinals and finals are scheduled for Saturday.

Lewis holds a 9-6 advantage in meetings with Johnson, but the Canadian has won five of the last six meetings, including the race that mattered most at the World Championships in Rome last year, when he set the world record of 9.83 seconds.

Lewis gained a measure of revenge this year in Zurich, Switzerland, winning and equaling his American record of 9.93 seconds.

The Jamaica-born Johnson finished third behind Lewis and American Calvin Smith. Johnson said he was suffering from a hamstring injury then but is fine now.

"I haven't felt better since Rome," he said. "I'm ready."

The 100 will be only the beginning for Lewis, who is trying to duplicate his 1984 Olympic fete of gold medals in four events. No one ever has repeated as Olympic champion in any of Lewis' three individual events - the 100, 200 and long jump.

Lewis also will anchor the 400-meter relay team, a subject of considerable controversy because he and his business manager, Joe Douglas, have been pushing to have Joe DeLoach replace Albert Robinson on the relay team.

Lewis and U.S. sprint coach Russ Rogers have patched up their differences, at least publicly, and Rogers says DeLoach will run in the relay preliminaries and may compete in the finals. Lewis won't run in the relay until the finals.

Lewis isn't the only big-name American who will compete early in the eight-day track and field competition.

Edwin Moses will try for another gold medal in the event he has long dominated, the 400-meter hurdles. If he succeeds, he would be the first person to win three Olympic gold medals in the same running event.

Preliminary heats are scheduled for Friday, with the semifinals Saturday and the finals on Sunday.

Moses, 33, said the chance for a third Olympic gold "is what's been keeping me going for the last four years."

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered virtually a sure bet to win the heptathlon and possibly break her own world record in the process, competes in her first four events Friday, with the final three set for Saturday.

Mary Decker Slaney, the premier American women's distance runner who has never won an Olympic medal, runs in the 3,000-meter preliminaries Saturday. It was in the 3,000 finals four years ago in Los Angeles that Slaney collided with Zola Budd and fell to the infield in tears.

Slaney, who also is entered in the 1,500, has been suffering from a blood count disorder, but says she is fully recovered. The 3,000 finals are scheduled Sunday.