NEW YORK (AP) — Gisela Clausen delivered the news to her fellow runners from Germany as they walked into the New Yorker Hotel.
"We spend a year on this. We don't eat what we want. We don't drink what we want. And we're on the streets for hours. We live for this marathon," she said, "but we understand."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed himself Friday and yielded to mounting criticism that this was no time to run the New York City Marathon: runners were ready but weary residents were still recovering from a monster storm named Sandy.
And just like that, the race was scrapped.
Bloomberg, who as late as Friday afternoon insisted the world's largest marathon should go on as scheduled Sunday, changed course shortly afterward amid intensifying opposition from the city comptroller, the Manhattan borough president and sanitation workers unhappy they had volunteered to help storm victims but were assigned to the race instead. The mayor said he would not want "a cloud to hang over the race or its participants."
"I'm shocked," said Clausen, who is from Munich. "Not at the situation, but at how short this decision is (in) coming."
Like Clausen, many of the runners understood the rationale behind the decision. The death toll in the city stood at 41 and thousands of people were shivering without electricity, making many New Yorkers recoil at the idea of police officers protecting a foot race and evicting storm victims from hotels to make way for runners.
But the suddenness of it all forced runners to deal with an unexpected twist: What to do with no race.
Nearly 40,000 athletes — well over half from out of town — were expected at the Staten Island start line on Sunday. Their entry fees were paid. Their airline tickets were purchased. Their friends and family had hotel rooms. And all week the race was a go — even after Sandy came ashore Monday and ripped up everything in its path.
"I understand why it cannot be held under the current circumstances," Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 men's champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist, said in a statement. "Any inconveniences the cancellation causes me or the thousands of runners who trained and traveled for this race pales in comparison to the challenges faced by people in NYC and its vicinity."
The cancellation means there won't be another NYC Marathon until next year.
"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.
The nationally televised marathon had been held annually since 1970, including 2001, about two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The 26.2-mile race had been scheduled to start in Staten Island, one of the storm's hardest-hit places, and wind through all of the city's five boroughs with 2 million spectators usually lining the route.
In Staten Island, Cynthia Spinner said, "Thank God, thank God," when she heard the marathon was canceled.
"More for our people in New York," she said. "They shouldn't take their police or ambulance services off of what they're doing now to go for the marathon. People need homes. They're in hotels; they need everything right now."
Across the metro area Friday, the recovery made slow progress. Companies turned the lights back on, and many employees returned to their desks. Many major retailers also reopened.
But patience was wearing thin among New Yorkers who had been without power for most of the week.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo told utilities to step up power repair work or risk losing business in the state. And officials said the cost of the storm could exceed $18 billion in New York alone.
From storm-scarred New Jersey to parts of Connecticut, a widespread lack of gasoline frustrated people who were just trying to get to work or pick up a load of groceries.
Lines of cars, and in many places queues of people on foot carrying bright red jerry cans, waited for hours for precious fuel. And those were the lucky ones. Other customers gave up after finding only closed stations or dry pumps marked with yellow tape or "No Gas" signs.
Bloomberg called the marathon an "integral part of New York City's life for 40 years" and insisted that holding the race would not require resources to be diverted from the recovery effort. But, he said, he understood the doubts.
City and race officials considered several alternatives: a modified course, postponement or an elite runners-only race. But they decided cancellation was the best option.
Organizers will donate various items that had been brought in for the race to relief efforts, from food, blankets and portable toilets to generators already set up on Staten Island.
Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the marathon, said canceling was the right move.
"This is what we need to do and the right thing at this time," she said.
"It's been a week where we worked very closely with the mayor's office and felt very strongly, both of us together, that on Tuesday, it seemed that the best thing for New York on Sunday would be moving forward. As the days went on, just today it got to the point where that was no longer the case."
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association — the police department's largest union — called the decision to cancel the marathon "a wise choice."
"When you have a significant amount of people voicing real pain and unhappiness over its running, you have to hear that. You have to take that into consideration," said Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for government affairs and communications.
"Something that is such a celebration of the best of New York can't become divisive," he said. "That is not good for the city now as we try to complete our recovery effort, and it is not good for the marathon in the long run."
ING, the financial company that is the title sponsor of the marathon, said it supported the decision to cancel. The firm's charitable giving arm has made a $500,000 contribution to help with relief and recovery efforts and is matching employee donations. Sponsor Poland Spring said it would donate the bottled water earmarked for the marathon to relief agencies, more than 200,000 bottles.
Race organizers had been expecting about 47,500 runners before the storm.
For now, they are sticking to their policy of no refunds for runners, but they will guarantee entry to next year's marathon or the half-marathon in March. However, Wittenberg said the group would review the refund policy.
Steve Brune, a Manhattan entrepreneur, was set to run his fourth New York City Marathon.
"I'm disappointed, but I can understand why it's more important to use our resources for those who have lost a lot," he said.
Nikki Davies arrived from London on Friday, eager to race.
"I can understand not wanting to run through devastated parts of the city," she said. "I thought if they cancel it, they'd cancel it earlier."
Now, she had 10 days to fill. On her agenda?
"A lot of sightseeing," she said.
Associated Press writers Cara Anna, Ronald Blum, Verena Dobnik, Melissa Murphy, Christina Rexrode, Michael Rubinkam and Ted Shaffrey in New York contributed to this report.
- Athletics, Track & Field
- Staten Island