MARK English has received two massive boosts since winning European indoor silver and turning 22 recently.
The UCD medical student signed a prestigious two-year sponsorship deal with Sky Sports yesterday and revealed he will be racing Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha in a unique race at the 'Golden Spike' meeting in Ostrava on May 26.
"I'm really excited about it because it is over 600m and Rudisha is looking to break the world record," he said. "I've always felt that 600m could be the perfect distance for me, though it probably also is for him too!"
America's Johnny Gray has held the world record (1:12.81) for the non-competition event since 1986, and an athlete he now coaches, Duane Solomon, tried unsuccessfully to break it this time last year, running 1:14.43.
Rudisha ran 1:13.7 last year and English has an unofficial 600m PB of 1:14.5 clocked in training in Austria last summer during his build-up to the European (outdoor) Championships, where he won 800m bronze.
The Donegal star's great one-lap speed - he ran 46:56 in Belfast last year, which puts him 15th on Ireland's all-time list - suggests that he should do particularly well at 600m.
It will not be English's first time to race against Rudisha. He was second to the Kenyan superstar in the New York Diamond League meeting last year in his own third-fastest 800m time (1:45.03).
Solomon was third and Poland's Marcin Lewandowski and Adam Kszczot - since crowned European indoor and outdoor champions respectively - were next over the line, so that race seriously established English's credentials.
That's the sort of company that he can now keep and explains why Sky Sport have decided to sponsor him in the run-up to next year's Olympics.
Katie Taylor, Jason Quigley and Paralympian Mark Rohan are previous recipients of Sky's academy scholarships, which include mentoring and media training as well as financial backing.
English is the only Irish athlete named so far in Sky's crop for Rio, which include Jessica Judd (800m), pole-vaulter Holly Bleasdale, Louis Persent (400m) and Paralympic sprinter Olivia Breen from British track and field.
"It was a shock to hear that I'd be invited to join an academy with such talent," English said. "It's a huge honour to be associated with such a massive global brand name such as Sky and their support will be absolutely vital in my preparations for Rio 2016."
His third-year exams will be finished by May 11, allowing him to concentrate on a hectic pre-Olympic summer that will include European U-23 and World Championships.
He hopes to get into a greater number of Diamond League meetings this summer. Coach Nic Bideau has already secured New York, on June 13, and English will compete in Hengelo 48 hours before facing Rudisha in Ostrava.