By Andrew Mach and Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News
NEW YORK – The New York Marathon will not be held Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday, backtracking just a few hours after he defended the decision to hold it despite heavy criticism as the city struggles back from Superstorm Sandy.
"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," he said in a statement Friday evening. "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."
"We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," he added. "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."
A few hours earlier, Bloomberg told a press conference that holding the marathon would be a morale and money boost for the city.
“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.”