Hong Kong: China look set to confirm their new found status among the sport's elite at the world swimming championships in Shanghai, while Asian rivals Japan are desperate to show they are still a force.
The hosts are on an upward curve, finishing third in the swimming medals table at the 2009 worlds - with four golds - behind the United States and Germany, a year after notching just a single win at the Beijing Olympics.
Aside from Asia's two powerhouse nations, much will be expected from South Korean Olympic champion Park Tae-Hwan, who has a lot to prove after flopping in Rome in 2009 just a year after his Beijing 400m freestyle triumph.
China underlined their regional dominance at November's 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, romping to 24 golds and leaving Japan, who took home just nine golds, wilting under the host's challenge.
It was not just the success of the Chinese that caught the eye, but also the quality and depth of young talent on show.
China's 1,500m Asian Games winner Sun Yang headlines their men's team in Shanghai while the women are led by 200m butterfly Olympic champion Liu Zige and 50m backstroke world champion Zhao Jing.
The hosts, who have 52 swimmers in their squad, are approaching the championships with one eye firmly on next year's London Olympic Games.
"The Shanghai worlds is the biggest competition before the 2012 London Games, so it's a good chance to get the swimmers ready," said team coach Yao Zhengjie, according to the People's Daily Online.
"We will try to win three to four gold medals in Shanghai. Sun will be expected to win one or two, hopefully in the men's 800m and 1,500m freestyles," the China Daily quoted him as saying.
Sun, 19, who missed out on Grant Hackett's 1,500m freestyle world record by less than a second in Guangzhou, said the 400m freestyle was the title he coveted most.
"I desire the 400m freestyle more than the 800m and 1,500m because my toughest opponent, Park Tae-Hwan, will be in that event," Sun said. Sun has the top times in the world this year in the 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle.
Sun's clash with Park could be one of the highlights of the championships, with the Korean coming into the worlds in red-hot form after beating Michael Phelps over 100m in the recent Santa Clara International Grand Prix.
Park, who will swim in the 100m freestyle, 200m and 400m, carries South Korea's hopes almost single-handed and will be keen to banish memories of Rome, where he failed to reach a single final.
"I don't pay too much attention to other athletes. I'm focused on my training and I feel really good about the upcoming championships," he told the Korea Herald.
"My first goal was to win an Olympic medal and I've already achieved it. Now, I'm aiming to set a new world record," he added.
Despite the strength of the Chinese team, Japan have not given up hope of making a major impact in Shanghai, though their women are at a low ebb after failing to win a single gold at the Asian Games.
Norimasa Hirai, the head coach of Japan's 26-strong swimming team said: "We will aim for more than five medals, including gold."
The team is down 11 swimmers from the 2009 world championships, with Hirai describing them as "the cream of the crop".
Japan's roster includes Kosuke Kitajima, who has twice won the 100m and 200m Olympic breaststroke double, and 100m backstroke world champion Junya Koga as well as Ryosuke Irie, who took 200m backstroke silver in 2009.
Kitajima, with a dazzling medals haul under his belt, is eyeing a berth in London next year but he admits he needs to improve after a poor Asian Games.
"I will target the gold medal at the world championships so that I will automatically qualify for the Olympics. I don't think about anything else," he said.
Irie, who is in fine form after winning the 100m and 200m backstroke at three European Grand Prix meets last month, has his eyes firmly set on Shanghai.
"I don't think about the London Olympics now," he said. "I'm focused on how I produce good results in Shanghai."