r-at-work, I understand your point about twisting statistics but these statistics don’t have to be twisted. Even with many more people running marathon these days, there are actually fewer sub-3, sub-2:30, sub-3:30, sub-whatever runners out there. Take a look at the numbers Zeke posted. Not only are the percentages dropping. The trend is that there are more people running but fewer people going sub-3. If the number of sub-3 finishers was steady with more finishers, the argument that people are being added to the back of the pack and shifting averages down would be valid. However, as the number of total finishers goes up, the number of sub-3 finishers is going down. This suggests that not only is the back of the pack growing but the front of the pack is shrinking. This is not healthy for competitive running.
Some disturbing numbers from the faster crowds (source)…
Number of sub-2:20 marathoners in 1989 and 1999
Great Britain: 54/7
As a sidenote on this one, note the years. Typically, the numbers of sub-2:20 marathoners is highest in the year before an Olympic year (as 1999 was) and lowest in the year following an Olympic year (as 1989 was). This would suggest that the drop from 64 to 34 was even more extreme than it looks.
Olympic Trials stats
Year: Sub-2:20 finishers/sub-2:15 finishers/winning time
Admittedly, the conditions were bad at the 2000 Trials and judging based on one race is flawed. However, going from 56 sub-2:20 Americans at the 1980 Trials, a single race, to 34 sub-2:20 Americans in all races during 1999 and only 9 sub-2:20 Americans in the 2000 Trials is not a positive trend regardless of conditions.