Under enormous pressure from a city in distress, New York City Marathon officials decided late Friday afternoon to cancel the race less than two days before it was scheduled to begin.
The announcement came only a few hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his decision to keep the marathon scheduled for Sunday. Bloomberg called the annual event a way to show "solidarity" with the millions affected by Hurricane Sandy, many of whom still remain without power and plumbing several days after the storm devastated the region.
"The Marathon has been an integral part of New York City's life for 40 years and is an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch," Bloomberg and marathon director Mary Wittenberg said in a joint statement. "While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division. The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it.
"We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event – even one as meaningful as this – to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track."
Anger toward the mayor and marathon officials mounted throughout Friday after a New York Post cover depicted two massive generators devoted to powering the press tent in Manhattan, while many citizens on Staten Island and the outer reaches of Queens remained in the dark. Even runners themselves, who had traveled long distances to participate, felt deeply conflicted when they saw long lines for gas on Manhattan streets. The death toll from the storm has increased throughout the week as more bodies have been recovered in houses, and Staten Island officials called the emergency response a "disgrace."
"[Mayor Bloomberg] kinda made it originally sound like we'll be semi-normal," well-known marathoner Dean Karnazes told Yahoo! Sports Friday. "But the news is really bad, almost like it's getting worse. The last thing they want to do is create a backlash, and you're starting to see some of that.
By Friday afternoon, the backlash got to be too much, and officials made the call to stop the race from going forward. Had it gone on, runners would have started on Staten Island, only a short distance from beach areas that remain flooded and in need of massive support.
"I'm pretty disappointed they cancelled it this late," said Javier Rivera, an attorney who said he spent about $1,400 travelling from Los Angeles to New York. "I traveled across the country. They could have done this two days ago."
Said Karnazes: "Cancelling the event was the right thing to do without a doubt. I'm going to stick around NYC, but to help out. Now is a time to lend a hand, not run."
Yahoo! Sports social editor Eric Orvieto contributed to this story.
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