Michael Phelps returns to China, scene of his astonishing Beijing Olympic swimming triumphs, seeking to kick-start another Olympic campaign at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai.
With the 2012 London Games looming, Phelps and his American team-mates will get a chance to test themselves against the world's best, aiming to stay top of the medals table in this pre-Olympic year.
For all his achievements, Phelps heads to Shanghai with questions swirling. If not exactly floundering, the 14-time Olympic gold medallist has appeared at least to be drifting after a series of rare defeats.
However, after falling to D'Arcy in Santa Clara in June, Phelps was talking less about the deficiencies in his training and more about his confidence following high altitude workouts in Colorado, saying he was "in a lot better place mentally" than he had been earlier in the season.
Phelps's latest tune-up saw him notch two victories at the Canada Cup earlier this month, including a 100m butterfly victory that put him top of the world rankings in that event.
He could be lured to the 200m freestyle by the chance to regain the world title he lost to Germany's Paul Biedermann in Rome two years ago, while in the 200m individual medley Phelps is the top performer to date in 2011.
Overall, America's men do not figure prominently in this year's world rankings, but that could be misleading because of the lack of a world championships selection meeting.
The US team, including 25 Olympians, was selected based on performances at the 2010 national championships and Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, leaving swimmers free to pursue their training schedules with an eye to peaking in Shanghai without worrying about trials.
Ryan Lochte, whose stellar 2010 included six Pan Pacs gold medals and a short course world championships campaign that saw him set the first world record since high-tech bodysuits were banned, has had a relatively quiet season, even battling a strained knee at one point.
Like Phelps, however, Lochte notched a couple of confidence-boosting victories in July, winning the 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley at a meeting in Florida.
The US women's team boasts a wealth of experience, spearheaded by 11-time Olympic medallist Natalie Coughlin in the 100m backstroke and 100m free and also including Rebecca Soni, the Olympic 200m breaststroke gold medallist and 100m breaststroke world champion.
Ariana Kukors established herself as a title contender in the 200m individual medley with the fastest time in the world this year at Santa Clara in June.
And rising star Missy Franklin, 16, will seek to break through on the world stage.
Since booking her national team backstroke berths, Franklin has won two silver medals at last year's short course worlds, and followed up by topping the women's standings in the USA Swimming Grand Prix Series.
As a high school student who could still opt to swim at university, Franklin could not accept the $20,000 Grand Prix prize, but would no doubt be happy to take world championships gold instead.
Source: AFP Global Edition