Ulster stars Kerry O'Flaherty and Ben Reynolds set for World Athletics Championships
Ulster duo Kerry O'Flaherty and Ben Reynolds have now left the Irish training camp in Tokyo en route to their biggest ever sporting challenge in Beijing where the World Athletics Championships start tomorrow.
The duo are in a 16-strong team including a men's 400m relay squad, three race walkers and three steeplechasers.
Both athletes will be ignoring media controversy surrounding the build-up to these championships to concentrate on capitalising on their best seasons ever.
Ideally they would like to set further personal bests before some 80,000 spectators. Their only previous experience of such a pressurised environment was in last year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
What a difference a year makes in sport. In Glasgow a disappointed O'Flaherty finished 11th in her steeplechase event in a time which she has since decisively beaten this season on three occasions. Her most notable achievement, which led directly to selection for Beijing, was a time of 9.42.61 just over a month ago in Letterkenny which sliced nine seconds off her previous Northern Ireland record set in June.
In the Letterkenny race, Newcastle-based Kerry managed to defeat Irish rivals Michelle Quinn and Sarah Treacy who will also be competing in Beijing.
The double bonus for both O'Flaherty and Quinn is that their performances also qualify them for the Olympics in Rio next summer.
There were some raised eyebrows following 33-year- old O'Flaherty's steeplechase achievement despite the fact that she had already notched up five personal bests during the year over 1500m, 3000m and 10k on the road.
However the key to Kerry's transformation over the barriers has been the critical input from hurdles expert and former Commonwealth Games decathlete Tom Reynolds, brother of Ben.
Kerry has freely acknowledged his key influence as well as pointing out that her speed endurance over shorter track races this season has improved out of all recognition, including a superb third over 1500m in the European Team Championships.
Kerry will be aiming to retain her position as Irish No1 in Beijing and hopefully set her third Northern Ireland record of the season.
North Down high hurdler Reynolds has already experienced action at global level when he competed in the World Indoors in Istanbul in 2012 where he reached the semi-final stage.
While Beijing is at an altogether different level, the 24-year-old Holywood man will nevertheless feel that he is well able to cope with the inevitable stress and pressure given that he is coming to the end of his most consistent and fastest season ever.
His key performance this season was his AAA's title win earlier this month in Bedford which broke his own NI record with new figures of 13.48. This time would have gained bronze in last year's Games in Glasgow.
Equally satisfying was the fact that he beat Games silver medallist William Sharman.
Reynolds has stated that competing in Beijing is a huge thing for him and a stepping stone to Rio next year.
He feels that the technical adjustments he has made this year have really worked and he is now making serious inroads against class opposition such as Sharman.
His latest success is particularly pleasing given his injury-plagued previous year when he never reached the heights of his 13.49 Northern Ireland record time of 2013.
The most successful athlete in the Irish team is World University Games 400m hurdles champion Thomas Barr.
He recently set an Irish record and was a member of the record-breaking 400m Irish Relay team in the European Championships last year.
Another member of that relay team is the highly talented 800m Donegal star Mark English who has a European Outdoors bronze and an Indoors silver to his credit.
He recently hit top form with a season's best time in London of 1.45.49.
The three race walkers in the Irish team include Rob Heffernan who is the current World champion over 50k.
The action starts tomorrow and runs until Sunday week.