Ryan Lochte has done the work, he's even gained the recognition, now the laid-back Floridian is ready to put it all on the line in London to prove himself the world's top swimmer.
"Honestly, I feel like this is my time," Lochte said. "I have put in the work and I know I can make this happen."
For years Lochte has toiled in the shadow of Michael Phelps. He owns three Olympic gold medals, a silver and two bronze, and his Beijing campaign included an impressive upset of Aaron Peirsol in the 200m backstroke.
But watching Phelps win all eight of his events in the Water Cube left Lochte wanting more.
"I definitely wasn't happy with the outcome in '08," said Lochte, who used that lack of satisfaction to push himself harder.
He gave up junk food and stepped up his training in and out of the pool.
In characteristic Lochte style, his strength training includes such oddities as tractor tire flipping as well as more mundane weight-room routines.
Lochte turned the tables on Phelps with a 200m medley victory at the 2009 World Championships, followed by another 200m medley win and a 200m freestyle triumph over Phelps as part of a five-gold haul at last year's worlds in Shanghai.
He will compete in four individual events in London and in two of them, the 200m and 400m individual medleys, he'll take on Phelps, owner of a record 14 Olympic gold medals.
Lochte relishes the rivalry -- saying he believes that it could "change the sport".
But he'll face quality competition in his other two individual events as well -- the 200m backstroke and the 200m freestyle. Lochte says he's ready for allcomers.
"I love just getting up on the blocks and racing the people next to you, trying to put your hand on the wall first," he said.
"This has been probably one of the longest years of my life. I just wanted the Olympics to come. I've been training so long for this moment -- it felt like it took forever."
With his five victories in Shanghai, Lochte earned recognition as FINA's top swimmer of 2011.
He says he's had to adjust to the demands of increased celebrity, but he has long been a favorite of fans thanks to his flamboyant clothes and his exuberance -- and for the accessibility that saw him making time to sign autographs even in the midst of the high-pressure US trials.
"He's always been good about stopping and doing that," said his coach Gregg Troy, who will serve as the US men's head coach in London. "At some point in life someone didn't give him one, and he said he never wanted to be that kind of guy.
"It's a little bit of a weakness," Troy added. "He has to learn to say no once in a while a little better."
But Lochte has no plans to change -- and no timeline to retirement regardless of what happens in London.
"I told myself I'll quit swimming once I stop having fun, and right now I'm having a blast," he said. "I'm not thinking about money or medals or anything else. I'm just having fun racing."