THERE HAS ALWAYS been considerable debate within athletic circles about peak ages in athletics - that is, the age at which athletes achieve their best performances. According to a study, the results of which were published in The Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, there is a fairly wide variation of peak ages, depending on the sport.

Richard Schulz and Christine Curnow of the University of Pittsburgh analyzed records from track and field, swimming, baseball, tennis and golf to determine the peak ages. Here is what they found:For men, the peak ages were found to be 20 for swimmers, 23 for sprinters, 24 for jumpers, middle-distance runners and tennis players, 27 for long-distance runners, 28 for baseball players and 31 for golfers. For women, the peak ages were 18 for swimmers, 22 for sprinters, 24 for middle-distance runners and tennis players, 27 for long-distance runners and 30 for golfers.

Curiously, unlike runners, the peak age for swimmers was unaffected by their event (sprints, distance, etc.). Ditto for baseball players. The peak age of pitchers and non-pitchers alike remains 27 or 28.

In conclusion, the researchers write that "the brute strength and speed events peak relatively early," compared to those requiring more diverse cognitive and motor skills.

So while performances continue to improve and records continue to fall, the ages of the athletes who achieve them remain the same. In track and field, for instance, the mean age of the Olympic gold medalists in seven running events and three field events in the years 1896 to 1936 was nearly the same as the gold medalists from 1948 to 1980.

Schulz and Curnow write that their are ways to widen the peak range, namely weight training. Hence, Florence Griffith Joyner rewrote all the female sprint marks last summer, at the age of 28.

***** John Thompson is making a big fuss over the NCAA's Prop. 48 these days, largely because he believes the test has inherent cultural biases. Lost in all the rhetoric - and courtside boycotts - is the fact that the requirements of Prop. 48 - a score of 700 on the SAT test - are so low that, as Ron Rapoport of the Los Angeles Daily news writes, "the term cultural bias loses all relevance."

To prove how easy the requirements are, Rapoport took the SAT test himself - and surpassed the required 700 points. And he's a sports writer. Not satisfied, Rapoport gave the test to his sixth-grade daughter. Rapoport reports she did "well enough to qualify for an athletic scholarship if she had been old enough and if she had had a hook shot."

Rapoport continues, "She was able to break 700 on the SAT. Is it too much to say that any high school senior who cannot do at least as well as an 11-year-old girl has no business going to college?"

***** A few years ago the Deseret News reported that there were a handful of basketball experts who supported raising the hoop. One of them was Ed Steitz, the long-time editor and interpreter of NCAA men's basketball rules. Steitz wants to raise the rim by 11/2 feet - well beyond dunk range for most players.

"I'm not anti-dunk," said Steitz recently in an article written by Ross Atkin of the Christian Science Monitor. "If I were, I certainly wouldn't have led the movement to reinstitute the dunk into the collegiate cgame. Sure, it's a beautiful sight to see a six-footer dunk . . . But . . . it's not a big deal when a seven-footer takes the ball and thrusts it down through the basket along with his elbow."

Surprisingly, a number of coaches support the idea, although not to the extent Steitz recommends. Arizona State Coach Steve Patterson favors experimentally raising the rim three to six inches, saying that a two-foot raise would endanger the mechanics of shooting. "You could raise it gradually . . . to keep the dunking still challenging but not eliminate it completely."

Of course, many worry that raising the rim would change the game, but, as Steitz told the Deseret News six years ago, "When Naismith invented the game - or even 30 years ago - you didn't have 6-6 people playing the game; 6-3 was the size of centers on most university teams. Naismith didn't even think of things like basket interference or goaltending."

***** The annual Track & Field News world rankings are out and Henry Marsh is ranked among the world's top 10 steeplechasers for the 12th consecutive year; no other runner in history, at any distance, has cracked the world rankings as many times as Marsh, either consecutively or otherwise.

However, Marsh, who ranked No. 8 in the world and No. 1 in the U.S. for 1988 - his final year of competition - just missed one of his most prized goals: to rank as the all-time scoring leader in the steeplechase rankings (a set number of points is awarded for each position in the rankings). Marsh finished his career with 75 points, one fewer than the great Bronislaw Malinowski.