November 03, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) -- Meb Keflezighi need only think of the Staten Island mother whose two children were swept away by flood waters to keep perspective on the cancellation of the New York City Marathon.

The father to three young daughters, Keflezighi feels a special bond with New York. It was his first marathon; it might be his last. And in 2009, New Yorkers cheered him as he became the first American in 27 years to win the race.

Organizers met with the elite runners Saturday, a day after the marathon was scrapped with less than 48 hours' notice. Keflezighi said New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg's message was: "This is what you've been working for, and sorry I can't give it to you in many ways, because it's just not safe."

Keflezighi then felt compelled to make an impromptu speech.

"We understand," he told NYRR officials. "It's like an injury. You have to sometimes stop then come back stronger."

Keflezighi said other runners, coaches and agents told him later they supported his message.

Keflezighi went for a 6-mile run Friday evening in preparation for Sunday's race. When he returned to the hotel, he saw the cancellation news on a video screen in the elevator.

The 37-year-old Californian planned to run New York, then a spring marathon, then New York again next year. After that, he may retire.

"It was narrowing my career pretty past, and now it just narrowed one marathon less," he said.

Keflezighi thought he had a personal best time in him heading into Sunday's race. But he wanted to run only if the spectacle could unite New Yorkers. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist agreed with organizers that animosity toward the marathon could put runners in danger.

"You never know what's going to happen in the streets," he said.

Keflezighi was philosophical about losing any appearance fees, saying, "Money comes, money goes."

He wasn't sure if he would race soon to make the most of his marathon training.

"It's hard work, dedication, livelihood," he said. "You want to be able to perform the fruits of your labor."

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