By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(13-Jun) — Ole Miss miler Craig Engels drew a lot of attention for his mullet and mustache at last week’s NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships. But another man with fleek facial hair stormed to a stellar result, too: Arkansas junior Jack Bruce.  Bruce, 22, sported a Hugh Jackman-inspired look all the way to second place in the men’s 5000m, nearly pulling off an upset over a loaded field.

PHOTO: Jack Bruce of the University of Arkansas after finishing second in the 5000m at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

From Brisbane, Australia, Bruce ran 14:35.88 in a tactical race to make a firm statement over twelve and a half laps. “I’m a big Australian, I got a little bit of inspiration from Aussie legend Hugh Jackman to do this,” he said, stroking his blonde mutton chops (similar to what Jackman sported as Wolverine) and a tied-back man bun. “I mean, it’s not very good. I grow blonde facial hair so it’s not like crazy outstanding or anything… Coach tried to tell me to look as scary as I can, and told me to not shave it [laughs].”

In all seriousness, Bruce’s run was significant for a number of reasons. First, it was his first race ever at Hayward Field and the first time he’d lined up at an NCAA Outdoor Championships. Second, he came in with momentum after a noteworthy season which saw him run a 13:38.15 PB over 5000m and place third in both the SEC Championships 1500m and 5000m. Bruce has solid credentials but entered a level below favorites Justyn Knight of Syracuse and Grant Fisher of Stanford.

“I’m over the moon with second,” Bruce told Race Results Weekly. “I guess I was flying very under the radar coming into here. I hadn’t done anything outstanding leading up to this, so there was no reason for anyone to expect that I was going to come in second. I just had a great race today,” he said.

After the pace lagged throughout, Bruce used his 3:41.45 1500-meter speed to move from 17th at 3000m to third at the bell. In the final lap, he’d overtake Knight down the homestretch and come within three-tenths of a second of Fisher.

“It was a weird race,” Bruce mused. “We started to move pretty hard with a mile to go. I tried to hold a little bit back because I knew that some guys had probably gone a little too early and I could work off them in the last 800 or 600 meters,” he said. “I want to say I was ready for anything, but when it started off slow I was pleased. I’ve got decent 1500 speed. If it was going to be slow it worked more in my favor, but I prepared pretty well for this race with my training all year. I was ready for fast or slow. I was glad it did go slow once I started out.”

Speaking to the media after his race, Bruce admitted that he surpassed his expectations. “I think in my head if I came fifth I would have been probably just as happy. But getting second, over-performing my expectations, is big.”

Bruce is already looking at the runner-up finish as a stepping stone in his senior campaign beginning next fall in Fayetteville. A year ago he finished 19th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, helping the Razorbacks place fifth as a team. Now his name can be thrown in the hat as a potential title contender (keep in mind, an Australian, Patrick Tiernan, won last year; he is from Toowoomba).

“In the future I’ll take this as a great experience and I think it’s going to help me going forward. I’ve never run at Hayward Field or NCAA Outdoors. Coming here for the first time was a great experience but I think I’ll take from this that I have to think of myself as one of the better runners now,” he said. “Through cross country, next indoor and outdoor, I’ve got to try to consistently be a little higher up in finishing races. I was doing well but not being one of the top guys. Having more expectation on me to be one of those guys now, so yeah I’ve got to get ready for that.”

In a year’s time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bruce on the top spot of the podium outdoors: six of the ten distance events contested among men and women in Eugene were won by international athletes (three Britons, two Kenyans, and one Canadian were victorious). But, both 5000m champion Fisher of Stanford and third placer Knight of Syracuse each return as well.

“Grant and Justyn are hell of an athletes. I was getting there, but there wasn’t really much going through my mind that last 100 meters except run as hard as I can,” he said. “It is what it is; I’ll come back next year and try to win it.”

And will we see a return of the Hugh Jackman/Wolverine look with mutton chops and man bun when collegiate competition resumes next fall?

“It may pop up again. Not going to promise anything but it may pop up again,” he said, laughing.

PHOTO: Jack Bruce of the University of Arkansas after finishing second in the 5000m at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)