Hopkins, Olaru Win Tight Races At Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas

Over 30,000 runners rocked The Strip on Sunday night.


Over 30,000 runners rocked The Strip on Sunday night. 

LAS VEGAS — The race lasted just under three hours, but in the end victory came down to the final few seconds.

At the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon to benefit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Romanian Nuta Olaru outlasted Andrian Neal of Colorado Springs, Colo., by two seconds, winning the women’s race in 2 hours, 51 minutes and 31 seconds.

“It was a tough course today,” said the 42-year-old Olaru, who trains in Boulder, Colo. “But I like Las Vegas. I like this competition because the last part is in the dark.”

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The duo, who ran together for most of the redesigned 26.2-mile route, crossed the 10K mark in 38:18, 40 seconds clear of the rest of the field. Passing halfway in 1:22:34, Olaru and Neal were over two minutes up on eventual third-place finisher Dani Fisher (2:59:20), before turning into a tremendous headwind that plagued runners in both the marathon and half marathon. Olaru was three seconds up on Neal at the 20-mile mark (2:07:32), the most the two were separated all day. In the end, it was Olaru who won the battle with Neal — and the wind.

“It was tough because there were strong winds but I’m happy because I won,” Olaru said. “This is my dream.”

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In the men’s marathon, 36-year-old Kenyan Jonathan Ndambuki, who trains in Santa Fe, New Mexico, crossed the finish line in 2:32:24 to win by 58 seconds over Steve DeKoker of Seattle.

Ndambuki, who also won the 2011 Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon, was on his own for the last 20 miles of the race. After an opening 5K of 16:42 that saw four runners still in contention, Ndambuki began to string things out, hitting the 10K in 33:10 with a six-second advantage on eventual fourth-place finisher Jesse Armijo (2:43:38). Ndambuki hit halfway in 1:11:44 and passed 20 miles in 1:50:58, with Dekoker steadily moving up behind him, 1 minute and 49 seconds back with 10K to go. Dekoker continued to close the gap over the final 6.2 miles, but ran out of real estate while fighting through the vicious 30-40 mph headwinds.

“The wind was very tough and it was kind of blowing me back,” Ndambuki said. “I was fighting it the last 10 miles. It was very tough on me. I had to keep myself in balance. The course is very nice and all the people motivated me.”

The men’s half marathon featured another exciting finish, as a three-man battle between Kenyan Francis Maundu, Costa Rican Olympian Cesar Lizano and former University of Portland cross-country star Craig Hopkins materialized by the 10K mark. In the end, it was Hopkins who was strongest, breaking the tape in 1:07:23, five seconds ahead of Maundu. Lizano, who won the Latin Music Miami Beach Half Marathon two weeks ago, finished third in 1:07:42.

The trio passed 10 miles together in 50:48, on pace for a sub-1:06:30 finish, before turning back onto the world-famous Strip and headfirst into a relentless wind. They stayed together until just before the 12-mile marker when Hopkins turned on the after-burners and ran away with the victory.

Bradi Hutchison, a sub-34 minute 10K runner who recently graduated from Idaho State, made her debut in the women’s race a memorable one, winning in 1:19:34, over a minute ahead of second-place finisher Paige Biglin (1:20:47). Hutchison, who was 21 seconds back of Biglin at 5K (17:59 to 18:20), held a steady effort from start to finish, passing 10 miles in 59:22 — a 50-plus second lead which she added to over the final 5K.

Olympian Meb Keflezighi, who was slated to run last month’s New York City Marathon, paced a group of 1:30 half marathoners, enjoying a scenic tour of Las Vegas Boulevard. A handful of notable celebrities were also on hand for the event, including reality TV star Kate Gosselin (2:10:10), suspended New Orleans Saints football coach Sean Payton (2:18:32), Bachelor star Sean Lowe (2:23:05), and actresses Nicole Sullivan (1:57:35) and Nikki Reed (2:38).