There's not much at stake for Michael Phelps at the 10th FINA world championships beginning today in Barcelona, Spain.
Just the lead role in all of swimming and a head start on a year's worth of Olympic hype.
Phelps wore a cap, gown and microphone to his recent graduation from Towson High as NBC, the network of the Olympics, is prepared to chronicle his life leading up to next summer's Games. His agent is in negotiations with an international beverage company seeking a tie-in to the Olympics.
Those powers that be and another from Australia, Ian Thorpe, will be keeping tabs on Phelps this week.
The legend in the making from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club arrived in Barcelona as the world record-holder in the 200-meter butterfly and the 200 and 400 individual medleys, and the top seed in the 100 butterfly.
Those credentials, incidentally, were in place before Phelps turned 18 three weeks ago.
No one has ever won four individual events in this competition, which began in 1973, the year after Mark Spitz made the sport's biggest haul ever with seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics.
Thorpe, now 20, approached that level of dominance at the 2001 world championships, setting three world records in four days and adding three gold medals in relays.
Phelps and Thorpe will finally go head-to-head Friday, in the 200 IM, on the Baltimorean's turf, so to speak. Phelps is the fastest all-around swimmer ever. Thorpe is the reigning freestyle king. Both long to reside on the peak only Spitz has scaled.
"We're both after the same thing," Phelps said. "We both want to do something big next summer. The only way he [Thorpe] could do that is to branch out to more events. We're thinking the same way."
Two years ago in Japan, Thorpe ruled and Phelps was viewed as just another specialist, albeit the world champion at age 16 in the 200 butterfly.
While it appears his repertoire has expanded, this is more like a rerun of the mid- and late 1990s. Phelps tore up national age-group ranks then; now, he's taken his pysch job to a global scale.
If Phelps were fearful of the attention that would accompany an unprecedented four individual titles at the worlds, he wouldn't have turned professional two years ago, a few weeks into his junior year of high school.
This meet has been on his radar since then. He acknowledges the big picture, and appreciates that it will turn fuzzy if he doesn't tend to details.
"The big things are already taken care of," he said.
Phelps weighs 180 pounds, wears a size-14 sneaker in his rare moments on land and has a wingspan several inches longer than his 6-foot-4 height. He extended his reach last winter, when his training load averaged 85,000 meters per week, over 53 miles.
He cut back in the spring to about seven miles per day, and began to "taper" in late June, lessening his workload just before his most recent world record, in the 200 IM.
He did so without shaving his body to reduce friction, an audacious statement akin to Ray Lewis performing on Sundays with a weighted vest under his pads.
This week, the pertinent numbers are 13 races in six days, but Phelps thrived on a similar schedule in early April.
In five days in Indianapolis, he became the first man ever to win events in three different strokes at a national meet, then starred in the Duel in the Pool against a Thorpe-less Australia, when he was within three-hundredths of a second in the 100 fly of becoming the first person to set world records in different events on the same day.
Before he joined the U.S. team for pre-worlds training in France, Phelps idled at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center and discussed some of the little things.
The first one out of the pool is often the last one in, and Phelps knows there is still work to be done on his starts, let alone his turns. He must also replenish his body as quickly as possible after a race, a matter he and coach Bob Bowman still clash over.
"The recovery aspects between and after each swim are going to determine whether he can do all of the events or not," Bowman said.
"Is he going to get tired after two days and say, `I don't feel like eating that now,' or is he going to drink the Gatorade I'm trying to cram down his throat?
"When he's under the most stress, he gets cranky, but I don't think that's going to be a problem at the worlds. He'll be into it, but there were times in Santa Clara [the site of his 200 IM record] when I had to put my foot down.
"At one point, I told him, `Thorpe's got a team of six doctors working on it. Since you've got it all down yourself, I'll just go upstairs.' I'm probably going to be a ridiculous nag about all this."
Phelps' story keeps winding back to Thorpe, who was only 17 himself when he didn't fulfill expectations at the 2000 Olympics in his hometown of Sydney.
Phelps was once in awe of Thorpe, but the landscape has changed. Thorpe passed on the Duel in the Pool with illness, then rescinded an invitation to Phelps that they train together Down Under.