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NYC Elites Press On Despite Cancellation

Meb Keflezighi took on a leadership role with his fellow runners.

Meb Keflezighi took on a leadership role with his fellow runners.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — In a touching sign of support and encouragement, 2009 ING New York City Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi addressed a gathering of elite athletes and managers here on Saturday, urging them to continue on and give thanks to the New York Road Runners, who have worked tirelessly trying to make the 43rd running of the world’s largest marathon happen. The race was jointly cancelled Friday by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Road Runners.

“Let’s not look at the one year we missed out, but on how much the New York Road Runners and the city of New York has given us in the past, and will give us in the future,” Keflezighi said in an inspiring tone. “There’s nothing like what the New York Road Runners have done — first class service. And it’s because of the volunteers [that] elite athletes and others can say ‘hey, we want you to have a positive race experience.'”

Taking the microphone after New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg and New York Road Runners Chairman of the Board George Hirsch, Keflezighi spoke on behalf of the nearly 80 athletes seated in front of him, expressing gratitude and appreciation for the efforts Wittenberg and her team of workers had done in the days since Hurricane Sandy made landfall.  Over 250 people attended the meeting.

“Personally, on behalf of the elite athletes, thank you for what you have done for us since we got here,” Keflezighi said, looking at Wittenberg.

To the athletes, Keflezighi urged them not to look at the cancelled marathon as a missed opportunity. Instead, he told them to see it as an injury, something that, despite taking them one step backwards, can help them move forward two steps in the future.

“Today or tomorrow may not be that day,” he said. “But we can make the most of it. Be patient, be understanding, be thankful of this moment we have. Just like 9/11, it will go forward.”

Keflezighi’s message followed emotional speeches from Wittenberg and Hirsch, where the two offered a sincere apology to the elite athletes who had traveled here from across the world only to be told the could not compete. A top marathon runner typically spends three months in dedicated training before each race.

“It has been an extraordinary hard situation,” said Wittenberg, tears in her eyes. “All I can say with 100% confidence, as painful as this is, the right thing for the City of New York and the long term of this marathon is that it doesn’t go on tomorrow. As you know, we did everything possible to try and deliver the race.

“To the many who say ‘why did you get this far,’ it was just force of will to do everything we could and a real belief that we could get here. Decisions were made at a time when there was a lot of it still uncertain. That uncertainty is what has played against us as things played out in the last few days.”

Both also touched upon how an elite-only race could not be run, and that as an organization they pledged to help athletes find alternate competitions where they can showcase their current fitness.

“We stand ready to help get you to other races if we can,” Wittenberg said. “There are efforts even with some of our partners. We are having conversations to actively create opportunities…  Anything we can do to further support we will do.”

Brendan Reilly, manager of the Boulder Wave athlete group and 2010 ING New York City Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat, spoke to the group about the possibility of two Japanese marathons, Yokohama on November 18 and Fukuoka on December 2 accepting at least some of the runners from New York.

“It’s kind of a way for the World Marathon Majors to help all of you because of what’s happened here, to have a good race, have a place to run,” he said.

Reilly had already been in contact with the World Marathon Majors — who said they would support the idea — and asked all athlete managers in attendance to gather following the meeting, hoping to toss around ideas on possible solutions. Many Japanese running organizations have already pledged their support as well.

“I can’t really speak for them yet in terms of what it is all going to involve. They do want to try as much as possible to get you to race,” Reilly said. “But, you are going to have a race as an opportunity.”

For American athletes, options such as the California International Marathon on December 2 and the Philadelphia Marathon on November 18 were mentioned as potential alternatives as well.

For some, it was too soon to make a decision where to compete next. Tim Ritchie, who was set to make his marathon debut Sunday, said it best.

“No matter where you race, it won’t compare to New York City,” he said prior to the meeting, trying to remain positive and upbeat. “The crowds, the excitement. But right now, it is OK. In the grand scheme of things what can you do?”