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Electric New York celebrates marathon return


Overjoyed New Yorkers poured onto the streets Sunday, celebrating the return of the city's much-loved marathon after Hurricane Sandy amid razor-tight security following the Boston attacks.

More than a million people were expected to cheer on the 45,000 to 48,000 elite athletes and ordinary runners taking part in the 26.2-mile (42.2km) marathon through all five boroughs of the metropolis.

Police helicopters, boats and scuba divers have been deployed and the marathon route crawled with uniformed officers after twin bombs killed three people at the famous Boston footrace in April.

Deadly Hurricane Sandy forced organizers to cancel the marathon at the last minute a year ago, but the city was out to celebrate Sunday, live music, bunting and balloons at the ready.

"I've been tossing and turning, so I know that there are a lot of excited people," retired tennis ace John McEnroe, who lives on Central Park, told AFP. "There's a lot of electricity in the air."

Having helped to train six runners, he said there was something extra special about this year's marathon.

"I know year in and year out how excited people get and how much it means to the city," he said. "Especially after what happened last year, so it's just got an extra special significance."

Chris Weiller, a spokesman for organizers New York Road Runners, said the budget for security was doubled to $1 million to safeguard "the world's greatest marathon."

There were tight bag checks at the staging area on Staten Island and the finish line in Central Park, and more than 10,000 volunteers were rigorously screened to be accredited to the route.

Runners are banned from wearing masks, props and bulky fancy dress costumes, bags and hydration packs, although volunteers will be handing out water and energy drinks along the route.

Blue ribbons have been handed to all runners to show solidarity with the victims of the Boston attacks and many of those who ran in April are running again in New York.

But Weiller told AFP it was a "celebration" and "like New York's biggest block party."

"We look at the marathon as one more step on the road to recovery... We run with Boston in our hearts and we run with New York in our hearts," he said.

"There's just a real sense of excitement," he added. "We have people here from so many countries, wherever you are everyone's ready to go and it really feels great."

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly unveiled stringent security measures with uniformed and plain clothes officers and more than 1,400 cameras surveilling the length of the route.

Police helicopters, explosive detection teams, bomb squads, boats, scuba divers and sniffer dogs have all been deployed.

Camilla Michelle Singh, helping her three musician sons set up for a live performance along the route, welcomed the extra security.

Her boys aged 11 to 16, who have played for TV show "America's Got Talent," were bitterly disappointed when they couldn't perform last year because the race was cancelled.

Instead, the Singhs hosted for two months families who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy.

"As they say, we're better than the storm. They're much more prepared. It makes us more aware and vigilant," Singh said.

"Excited! Psyched!" she told AFP when asked how it felt as her sons set up for a 45-minute set as "The Boys on Q."

"The marathon means a lot to us. It's exciting. It's our culture, our country," she said.

But the blustery winter chill was not for everyone.

Entrepreneur John Gallant chose a corner seat in the window of a Starbucks on 1st Avenue, tucked up in the warmth with a prime view of the first runners set to arrive in Manhattan.

"I got here at 6 am. We've been here for 25 years and I figured it was time I participated as best I could so I thought I'd just sit here and take it all in," he told AFP.

"I think its great. It's very exciting. New York has made a major resurgence after Sandy, after 9/11," he said. "It's a terrific event for everyone, for the whole city."