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After Controversy, Officials Call Off New York City Marathon

Workers construct the Finish Line on Friday as preparations continue for the 43rd New York City Marathon.
Timothy Clary
AFP/Getty Images
Workers construct the Finish Line on Friday as preparations continue for the 43rd New York City Marathon.

Update at 5:17 p.m. ET. Marathon Cancelled:

After receiving withering criticism, officials have decided to cancel the New York City Marathon, the largest 26.2 mile road race in the world.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had insisted on allowing the marathon to continue, issued a statement saying he did not want to taint the event.

"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," Bloomberg and New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg said in a statement emailed to reporters. "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."

NBC News points out that just hours earlier, Bloomberg asserted that the marathon would go on.

"If you think back to 9/11, I think Rudy [Giuliani] made the right decision to run the marathon," Bloomberg said. "It pulled people together and we have to find some ways to express ourselves and show solidarity to each other."

The mayor said New York Road Runners would issue more information later for the 45,000 runners.

Update at 6:30 p.m. ET. Best Way To Help Is to Not Run:

New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg was noticeably emotional when she made the announcement that the New York City Marathon has been cancelled during a press conference just moments ago.

She said unfortunately, it became apparent that "the best way to help New York City right now is to" cancel the race.

Howard Wolfson, a deputy mayor for government affairs, said that through its long history in New York the marathon has been a "unifying event."

"This year it had become divisive. So, if it's not unifying, it's not the marathon," Wolfson said.

Wolfson added that organizers thought about shortening the race to 10 miles, but City Hall nixed the idea. Wittenberg said that as soon as Sandy hit, organizers turned their attention to how they could help.

"The whole idea was to help New York," she said. But unfortunately, she said, "the legacy of this year's marathon is that we were able to help most by not running."

All of the race's assets — generators, food and water — will now be redirected to the relief effort.

Wittenberg said the event had expected about 40,000 runners to make it the race from around the world. Many of them have already arrived in New York.

Our Original Post Continues:

The New York City Marathon, one of the most storied and respected road races in the country, is shrouded in controversy this morning.

Take the top headline in the New York Post this morning: "This is no way to get us up & running."

The headline refers to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to allow the 26.2 mile run through all five New York City Burroughs to go on despite the damage and destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy.

The Post points out that the marathon has set up five 800 kiliowatt generators in Central Park to power things like the race's media tent and crews delivered thousands of bottles of water.

"I am from Coney Island where everything is flooded and underwater," Yelena Gomelsky, 65, told the newspaper. "I live 1 block from the ocean where everything is floating. "[Seeing the generators and water] makes me feel so bad. People have no food, no water, nothing.

"They should make all of these runners bring food and water to people's houses who need it," she added. "They should bring all of these generators to buildings where old people live and give them power."

New York Road Runners, the race organizers, defended the decision to go on with race.

"I understand the controversy completely and respect all the views on this, but any decision that was made by the mayor would have been controversial and to call off the race would have been equally as controversial," NYRR's George Hirsch told The New York Times. "By Sunday afternoon, there won't be any controversy. People will view it as an early step in the city's recovery."

The New York City Marathon is largest in the world with 47,000 runners. On the one hand, canceling a race like this is a big deal. Think about it: Many runners wait years for a spot in the race and they then spend at least 14 weeks training for it. Many of them travel to New York from far away places. They arranged flights and hotels and other transportation.

On the other hand: The race starts in Staten Island, which was pummeled by Sandy. At least 19 people were killed on the island and this morning there was a grim discovery: The bodies of two brothers, 4 and 2, were found in a marsh in South Beach, the Staten Island Advance reports.

Also, remember that putting on a marathon means a huge security presence and the closing of many streets.

Jason Gay, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, who says he loves the race wrote:"Is this race really in the best interest of a damaged city? This is not a playoff game at Yankee Stadium — it's a sprawling, cross-city undertaking."

He goes on to quote State Senator Liz Krueger who said on ESPN: "If we take one police officer, one ambulance or one fire-department staffer to put them on the marathon rather than doing the emergency-response work they are doing, it is not just an outrage—it is an abuse of their responsibilities."

What do you think? Should the marathon proceed?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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