NEW YORK — Runners from around the world who converged on New York for Sunday's marathon expressed understanding but couldn't hide their bitter disappointment at the last-minute decision to call off the event due to superstorm Sandy.
Amateur athletes in bright sports gear still went for sprints Saturday in Central Park, which had just reopened after the cleanup of downed trees. But that was far from thrill they had expected from a race that was meant to end in Manhattan's famous playground.
After days of insisting the marathon would go ahead as a symbol of New York's determination to get back to normal, Mayor Michael Bloomberg bowed to growing public pressure late Friday and pulled the plug.
"I understand the cancellation, but the timing is really bad. I am so upset we were told the marathon was still on until yesterday," Scott Solvsig, 39, said after traveling from the US state of Missouri to participate. "We flew in and learned at the airport it was cancelled."
Some 47,000 other runners were in a similar position, many of whom had flown in from other countries.
Former woman's tennis champion Amelie Mauresmo was furious at the way the decision was made.
"I find it incredible that they let participants think this event was going to take place," she wrote on Facebook. "When you look at all the reconstruction still needed in Manhattan and outside, it's impossible to understand."
Meanwhile, one runner took media tycoon Bloomberg to task, writing "I love incompetent billionaires" on the back of his shirt.
Narciso Megia, however, stressed that the correct choice had been made, given that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers remain without power, drivers have had difficulty finding fuel, and some have even been left homeless.
"New York needs to get back on its feet first. It is not fair to have fun while so many others are waiting for help," said the 27-year-old.
"There just wasn't a good solution," said a New York runner, Anshal, who was hit by Sandy and wished the race had gone ahead as a morale boost. "I personally trained for a year, and have been out of power, water for a week, trying to stay motivated and focused. I needed this."
"It could have been a positive event, but I understand how others feel differently," he added.
Critics of the original plan to go ahead said that vital resources were being diverted to what was essentially entertainment.
One New York newspaper published a photo of a generator meant for the media's use at the marathon and asked why it wasn't being given to storm victims.
French runner Eric Ohen expressed sympathy but also frustration.
"I feel for the people who suffered but if they really had to preserve all possible resources for victims, then why didn't they turn off the lights in Times Square to save energy?"
Some runners were making the best of the situation and heading off on their own impromptu marathons or at least testing runs around Central Park. But there was little consolation.
"I am gutted," said Frenchman Jean-Michel Laurent. "This was a present I gave myself for my 60th. This cost me 3,000 euros. I don't think I'll be able to do it again."
He said he felt for the people without electricity. But "they should have announced this earlier."