Whether it's his signature event, the 800 meters, or the anchor leg on the 4x400 relay, Charles Jock almost always outruns the competition.
But after a record-setting season that has included Big West Conference titles in the aforementioned events, the UC Irvine sophomore is still chasing most of his dreams.
Talk among his peers and track and field coaches, as well as Jock himself, is that he just might unleash a finishing kick sufficient enough to propel him down the stretch toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
An abundance of talent, a strong work ethic applied to ever-expanding training techniques, and a growing foundation of strategy and toughness forged by an increasing stockpile of competitive experiences, all figure to quicken the pace of Jock's pursuit.
The pursuit of a national championship in the 800 begins today for Jock, who aims to be one of 12 to advance from the NCAA West Region preliminary round at the University of Texas. Two races — the first round at 5:30 p.m. today and the quarterfinals Friday at 4:30 p.m. — will pare the field to half of the 24 runners (12 others from the East Region), that will compete at the NCAA Championships, June 9 through 12 in Eugene, Ore.
But Jock's biggest ally in this quest for achievement may be the fact that he is quite used to viewing success from a distance.
Jock's parents were born in the Sudan, a country in northeastern Africa in which both poverty and political oppression are common.
Jock was born in neighboring Ethiopia, the fourth of nine children, and came to America in 1992, the family lured by the promise of education and aided by the church and relatives already residing in the United States.
"The reason my parents came here was for education, and the better life that education can bring," Jock said. "They realized that you wouldn't be able to do anything in life without being well-educated."
The Jocks first arrived in Texas, but moved soon thereafter to San Diego, where Jock grew up knowing he was loved, yet also learning about sacrifice and competition that had nothing to do with sports.
"I believe that your experiences will influence all aspects of your life," said Jock, who majors in urban policy planning and design. "So, the experiences I've had as a kid definitely fanned out to athletics and academics."
Jock burst onto the national scene as a senior at Mission Bay High, when he won the CIF State championship in the 800 and finished second at the Nike Outdoor National Championships.
Luckily for UCI and veteran coach Vince O'Boyle, Jock had already become enamored with the Anteaters, before the recruiting letters and calls from college coaches began flooding in after his watershed success.
Still, Jock, a prep basketball player who managed to avoid overtures from the track coach until he was a sophomore — "I hate running, I told him," Jock said. — entered UCI as a sleek, but raw physical specimen who needed sculpting.
He finished second in the conference 800 final and helped the relay team with the Big West crown last season. But he did not advance from what was then the NCAA Regionals in either event, both times being edged by fractions of a second.
"I started lifting weights when I came here, something I never did in high school," said Jock, who has added 15 pounds as a collegian.
He also became a student of the mental game that occurs on the track.
"I think it was mostly learning about myself and the kind of runner I am," Jock said. "I learned to have the confidence that I can run with the big guys."
Jock broke former Olympian Steve Scott's 32-year-old school record in the 800, finishing in 1 minute, 47.46 seconds in a meet March 28 at UCLA. At the time, it was the best collegiate mark in the nation.
He bettered that standard by topping the field at the Big West Championships, clocking a 1:46.93 on May 15 at Cal State Northridge. Jock now ranks No. 4 nationally in the 800, while helping the relay team that also includes senior George Hernandez, senior Tim Murphy and junior Jacob Yowell, repeat as conference champion in 3:09.43.
The three 800 times faster than Jock's were all achieved in orchestrated races that included a pace-setting "rabbit." And Jock said he often finds another gear when challenged by elite-level competition, an advent the NCAA meets will surely provide.
Jock said he is ready to rise to the challenge.
"I'm so much more competitive this year and so much less willing to give in this year than I was last year," he said. "I missed going to nationals by .02 seconds in the 800 last year and in the relay, we missed it by .04 seconds. That obviously played a big role in my training and I think about that in every hard workout. I don't ever want to lose by hundredths of a second.
"When you think you're at the mental limits, you push your body past those limits. I think that's what separates me. At the national level, that's what separates who wins and loses, because everybody has been having great workouts. Everybody who has made it this far is talented."
Jock's talent has taken him this far.
He now hopes his desire and preparation will help him sprint off toward the bright future he has long envisioned.
College Track & Field: Sprinting toward dream
Anteaters' Jock begins quest for NCAA title in 800 meters at West Region preliminaries today in Austin, Texas.
UC Irvine's Charles Jock is the Big West Conference champion in the 800 meters. (Courtesy of UC Irvine)