Swaggering about, sporting sunglasses and bronzed bodies, the University of Maryland lifeguards had hopes of becoming champions.
In fact, coach Steve Mahaney had no doubt before the Third Annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Lifeguard Competition began yesterday that his team would win.
"Definitely, we've already won," said Mr. Mahaney, whose team placed third last year after being disqualified in one event. "We have the best swimmers here."
His confidence paid off when his team took first place and a $300 prize in the competition at Wild World Water Amusement Park. They beat last year's co-champions, American Pool Services and the Columbia Association.
Sixteen teams from Maryland, Virginia and Washington spent three hours showing off their skill and speed as they swam in relays, performed CPR and "rescued" victims.
Even though skies were gray and drizzly, spirits were still high as lifeguards cheered their teammates on to victory.
"We're like the postman," said Todd Lovinger, a lifeguard for seven years and member of American Pool's team. "Rain or shine, we're always out there saving people."
Mr. Mahaney called the competition "a marvelous idea for the lifeguards. It's fun, promotes safety and fitness, and keeps aquatics in the public's eye."
Joel Schlossberg, founder of the competition and Columbia's coach, agreed.
"Lifeguards are naturally competitive," Mr. Schlossberg said. "It's important for the public to understand that these guards hold important positions. They're out there saving lives."
Mr. Lovinger said people "think we're paid to sit back, look good and get a tan. It's a lot harder than that, though. It takes a lot of training, hard work and dedication."
The guards competed in six events chosen to test the skills -- speed, CPR and water rescue techniques -- they need to be successful, Mr. Schlossberg said.
Although he also had high hopes for his team, Columbia fell far from the lead, placing a disappointing sixth. American Pool came in second.
Yesterday's water rescues were all in fun, but several lifeguards said they had saved swimmers from drowning this summer.
The guards said conditions were most dangerous at crowded pools where the lifeguards hadn't gotten to know the swimmers and their habits.
Trudi Van Dyke, a Red Cross lifesaving instructor for more than 25 years, cast a critical eye on yesterday's competition. "A couple of the teams I judged had very poor skills. I wouldn't want them to rescue me."