As the curtain sags down on the distance running shambles of the noughties, it seems like a good time to reflect on how far we’ve fallen.
Over the course of the decade international standards have continued to progress, and a revolution has swept through international marathoning, but the standard of male British distance runners has all but collapsed.
Thankfully, the picture is different for British women, with Paula Radcliffe, Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey, Lisa Dobriskey and Mara Yamauchi and others competing at world level.
The collapse in standards is illustrated by the following graph, showing the number of men breaking 28:50 for 10,000 metres in recent decades:
The deterioration in standards is even worse when set against the improvement in world standards over this period. The world record has fallen from 27:39 in 1970 to 26:17 at the end of the 00s. Relative to world standards, a 28:50 in 1970 is roughly equivalent to a 27:25 now, a time last run by a British man in 1998.
Running has changed since 1970. Far more people are doing it, but much more slowly. Maybe that is part of the problem: the competitive side of the sport is being marginalised by the non-competitive recreational side. Is there any other sport where coverage of elite competition is regularly interrupted to show ordinary people doing the same thing very badly?
How many British men will break 28:50 for 10,000m in the next decade? Probably fewer than 19. Does it matter? I think so, although it’s hard to say why.