NEW YORK - After days of intensifying pressure from runners, politicians and the public to cancel Sunday's New York City Marathon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, city officials and the event's organizers decided Friday afternoon to cancel the race.
The move is historic - the marathon has been held every year since 1970, including in 2001, two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - but cancellation this year seemed inevitable as opposition to the race grew.
Critics said it was in poor taste to hold a 26.2-mile foot race through the five boroughs while so many people in the area are still suffering from the storm's damages, and that city services should focus on storm relief, not the marathon.
Proponents of the race - notably Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg, director of the marathon - said the event would provide a needed morale boost, as well as an economic one.
"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 Wittenberg said in a 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. " The cancellation means the race won't be held until next year. Among the details that remain unclear this year is how the field of nearly 50,000 runners, many of whom traveled to New York from other countries, might be compensated.
About 30,000 runners were from outside of the city.
Bloomberg and Wittenberg repeatedly insisted that holding the marathon would be best for New York, but many runners joined a chorus of politicians and area residents this week in speaking out against the plan to stage the race amid the widespread storm damage that occurred Monday night.
Pittsfield resident Christina Barrett, who earned a spot in the marathon through a lottery, said she had been "conflicted" about the race all week.
"On one hand, I've been training for months, and this was to be my first marathon," said Barrett, 31, the director of marketing and student recruitment at Berkshire Community College. "The time, energy and, to some extent, the sacrifice do make the news disappointing. But on the other hand, some New Yorkers are in crisis and needing even the simple things - electricity, food, shelter - that are often taken for granted."
Barrett said she thinks the decision to cancel the race was the "right" one. She said she'll still run 26.2 miles on Sunday, but she'll do it in the Berkshires instead of in New York City.
"It's about finishing something that I started," Barrett said. "So I'll throw on the shirt I was going to wear in New York and map out my own 26.2 miles."
Norbert Sander, who won the 1974 marathon and now runs the Armory, an indoor track in Manhattan, said she thinks city officials "caved."
"People are running as an example, they have children, raised money to come here, and they see this as a good, healthy thing," Sander said. "People came from around the world. I think they caved to the worst elements."
Deborah Rose, a New York City council member whose district is in Staten Island, said she fully supported the decision to cancel the race, adding that she and her colleagues were imploring the mayor to change his mind about the event.
"I thought it was a gross misplacement of priorities on the mayor's part to even consider having the marathon when there are people in Staten Island facing life and death situations," she said. "I'm glad to see that the mayor had an epiphany."
Rose called on all marathoners to go to Staten Island to help with the cleanup effort and to bring the clothes they would have shed at the start to shelters or other places where displaced people are in need.