NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New York City Marathon was canceled early Friday evening, a decision that was widely applauded, even if it did come a lot later than many expected.
Earlier, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under fire for pressing ahead with the weekend's event in a city still reeling from Superstorm Sandy, with some New Yorkers and many public figures saying that holding the 26.2-mile race would be insensitive and would divert police and other important resources while many are still suffering.
WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reports
Bloomberg appeared to have a change of heart Friday afternoon, releasing a statement saying the race had "become the source of controversy and division."
Bloomberg once again reiterated his stance that "holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort." However, the mayor then said the city 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," Bloomberg said in a statement.
ING, the marathon's title sponsor, said it "fully supports the city's decision to cancel the marathon."
"We recognize the need for the city to focus its resources on the immediate disaster relief and recovery efforts, and we applaud this decision," ING said in a statement.
The financial institution said it has made a $500,000 contribution to Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City for immediate and long-term disaster-relief and recovery. They will also be matching employee contributions to relief efforts.
Some runners who traveled halfway around the world to participate in the marathon said they understood why the race had to be canceled, but still voiced their frustrations.
WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reports
"Our hearts go out to the devastation of the city but I think there was the opportunity to cancel it right in the beginning and it would've saved a lot of people a lot of expense," a marathoner from South Africa told WCBS 880's Marla Diamond.
"I'm shocked and I'm extremely disappointed. It's been planned for half a year, a whole year," a runner from Norway told Diamond. "I'm going to stay in the hotel and drink lots of alcohol and go out and make the best of it."
There was a combination of disbelief and relief from a Staten Island couple who were set to run Sunday. They decided to boycott it themselves Friday night.
"I think it's the right responsible decision. Resources are scarce on Staten Island right now," Ryan Murphy told CBS 2's Jessica Schneider.
Ryan and Pam Murphy said they are surrounded by the devastation on Staten Island -- houses demolished, homes flooded and destroyed. They said they also saw the anger that stemmed from people knowing the marathon was slated to start just feet from the damage.
"The marathon people, the organization should be saying 'you know what, we're going to cancel it for two weeks or something, until we help these people get on their feet,'" resident Donna Solli said.
Some of the runners who got the news at the Jacob Javits Center were automatically enrolled in the 2013 race.
"It's heartbreaking, heartbreaking," one runner said through tears.
"It wasn't the marathon that we knew and we loved if there were people who were, uh, pained by the running of it," one race official told CBS 2's Schneider.
WCBS 880's Peter Haskell on reaction to the marathon
But the late cancellation didn't sit well with the thousands who spent thousands to get to New York City -- from all over the world.
"I thought for certain this race would have been cancelled, but to cancel it at 5:30 on a Friday when you have people coming in from all over the world!" said Marquita Hynes of Chicago.
"I think the race should have been cancelled or postponed, but it should've been earlier, so both sides were happy. That way we wouldn't have incurred the costs. I would've been disappointed, but I would've understood. But to cancel on the 11th hour, you just don't do that," added Jesus Amarante of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The last-minute cancellation was not just affecting the runners. It was hitting the businesses that expected to profit from this weekend.
"I think we spent $50,000-$60,000 for this space at the expo, and now all the people that didn't come for the hurricane, that came for it, we took a big hit," said Jordan Bird of Super Runners Shop.
Bloomberg had defended his earlier decision to hold the marathon as a way to raise money for the stricken city and boost morale less than a week after Sandy flooded neighborhoods, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses and killed at least 41 people.
"New York has to show we are here and we are going to recover ... to give people something to cheer about in what has been a dismal week for a lot of people," he said.
He noted that his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, went ahead with the marathon two months after 9/11.
"If you go back to 9/11, Rudy made the right decision in those days to run the marathon and pull people together," Bloomberg said, adding he marathon's organizers are "running this race to help New York City, and the donations from all the runners in the club will be a great help for our relief efforts."
Giuliani said on Friday that holding the race was completely appropriate, even given the circumstances.
"It's a great opportunity on Sunday morning for people to see New York City as the city that can handle something. We can do more than one thing at a time," Giuliani said.
Do you think canceling the marathon was the right move? Let us know in the comments section.
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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