Charles Jock uses a simple strategy for running an 800-meter race – start fast and make his competitors chase him. If they can catch up, fine.

“Then they deserve to win,” says the junior UC Irvine track star. “But if they do, they’ll experience some pain.”

Fortunately for Jock, few people can catch him in his signature race – a grueling two-lap half-mile sprint considered track’s most difficult. In 2010, he broke the campus record in the 800 meters, long held by three-time Olympian Steve Scott, considered UCI’s greatest track athlete. After winning the 800 meters at the Big West Track & Field Championships, Jock lowered the record time once again to 145.65 at the North American, Central American and Caribbean U-23 Track & Field Championships in Miramar, Fla. He finished his 2010 campaign as the Big West Conference Athlete of the Year in men’s track and earned All-American honors.

“Along with his speed, Charles has a brilliant desire to be the best,” says Vince O’Boyle, UCI’s track & field head coach. “His potential is just being tapped, and he’s very capable of improving and going to the next level.”

Jock intends to make an impact on the national and international level this year, and he roars into spring season as one of the 10 fastest American men at the 800-meter distance. He’s on the short list of contenders for the NCAA 800-meter title, and he has an outside shot to qualify for the U.S. team at the IAAF World Championships this summer in Daegu, South Korea.

In his first 800-meter race of the 2011 season, Jock won at the Cal/Nevada Championships at Claremont McKenna College with a meet-record mark of 1:47.18. He followed that by winning the Invitational Elite 800-meter race in the 53rd annual Mt. SAC Relays on April 16 with another school-record time of 1:45.19, which is the top mark in the U.S. and fourth best in the world this year.

Only 21, Jock is still young for a sport in which men peak in their mid- to late-20s. He didn’t run his first race until his sophomore year in high school and received little attention from college coaches – until he won the state California Intercollegiate Federation 800-meter championship as a senior in 2008.

He preferred basketball to track at first, but with his long, fluid stride, he knew by his senior year where his future lay. “My favorite part of running is the competition,” says Jock, who has also run the 400 meters, 1,500 meters and relay races. “It’s just you and the other guy, pushing you to your absolute limit. That’s what I enjoy.”

Jock’s family comes from southern Sudan. His father, John, was a dentist and a Neur cultural and religious leader, but war drove the family to Ethiopia, where Charles Jock was born. When he was 3, the Jocks moved to Dallas, and ultimately San Diego.

“My father wanted to move to America to give us a better life,” Jock says. His father died when he was in high school.

As a UCI freshman, Jock finished second in the Big West championships 800-meter final by .02 seconds, but he came back to lead the Anteaters to the 4-by-400-meter relay title, running a blistering anchor lap. That victory stands out as a personal highlight. “Seeing the whole side of the track lined with my teammates cheering me on as I made that final push was the best feeling ever,” he says.

Now in his third year at UCI, Jock has eased into the routine of a college student, majoring in planning, policy & design – he has an interest in urban environmental sustainability – and hanging out with his friends in his Irvine apartment. But to his track & field teammates, he’s become something else.

“He’s become a leader,” O’Boyle says. “People look up to him, and he has complete confidence in what he has to do to succeed.”