FIVE North-East youngsters have been selected to compete in January's Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) in Sydney.
The AYOF will see 1,700 athletes aged 12-20 competing across 17 Olympic sports in many of the venues that were used to host the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
In the past, the likes of Kat Copeland, Louis Smith and Tom Daley have used the AYOF as a stepping stone to a medal-winning appearance at the Olympics, and the hope is that a number of next year's 114-strong British squad will progress to represent Team GB at either the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro or the following Games in 2020.
Copeland, who won an Olympic gold in the lightweight double sculls this summer, competed at the 2009 Youth Festival, winning a gold in the women's quadruple scull, a bronze medal in the lightweight double scull and finishing fourth in the eight. This time around, the North-East will have two rowers competing in Australia between January 16-20.
Hexham-born Nicole Lamb, who is a member of Newcastle University Boat Club, will compete in the pair and four, while Stockton's Bethany Bryan, who is a member of Tees RC, will be part of the women's eight.
"I had a brilliant time going over to Australia," said Copeland, who was crowned joint-winner of The Northern Echo's Local Heroes Awards on Thursday night. "I learned a lot that helped me this summer (at London 2012) in terms of staying in the village, kitting out, going to an opening ceremony - it was different to anything I'd done before and just two weeks of fun.
"We had some close races in the double and I think it gave me the first taste of how amazing an Olympics could be."
Sunderland badminton player Holly Smith will compete in Australia next month along with Bishop Auckland gymnast Amy Tinkler, who is another former category winner at the Local Heroes Awards.
The North-East contingent is completed by Stockton diver Joshua Dowd, whose training base is Leeds.