With young stars like James Magnussen and Missy Franklin on the rise as the 2012 London Games approach, 2011 served to show Olympic swim great Michael Phelps just how much work he has to do.
Phelps, whose 14 Olympic gold medals include his unprecedented haul of eight golds in Beijing, was forced to play second fiddle at the World Championships in Shanghai to team-mate Ryan Lochte, who starred with five golds.
He also had to share the spotlight with 16-year-old Franklin, who enjoyed a breakthrough meet, and Magnusson -- who thrilled swimming-mad Australia by winning the coveted men's 100m freestyle title.
Magnussen, 20, also spearheaded Australia's 4x100m freestyle relay world gold, his exploits building confidence in the flagging Australian men's swimming programme as the sport's eyes turn toward London.
Magnussen now has his sights on the 100m free world record of 46.91sec set by Brazilian Cesar Cielo in 2009 when high-tech polyurethane suits were still allowed.
While the super-suits era is over, swimming didn't escape controversy in 2011, as Cielo was caught up in a drugs row on the eve of the World Championships.
Cielo escaped a suspension despite a positive test for the diuretic furosemide, which is banned in sport as a possible masking agent.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Cielo's assertion that the drug was in a contaminated caffeine supplement prescribed to him by his doctor.
However, not all were pleased with the decision, with one rival swimmer giving Cielo a "thumbs down" signal after his 50m butterfly triumph in Shanghai.
Now that the rules mandate textile suits, the World Championships saw just two world records fall -- compared to the ridiculous 43 set two years earlier in Rome.
One of those belonged to Chinese teenager Sun Yang, who wiped out Australian icon Grant Hackett's 10-year-old 1500m freestyle record.
Five of China's 14 medals in Shanghai were gold -- putting them second in the medals table behind the United States and signalling their intentions to make a splash in the competition pool in London.
America's effort, featuring 16 gold medals and 29 overall, was spearheaded not by superstar Phelps but by the low-key Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 200m freestyle and then in world record time in the 200m individual medley.
True, Phelps nabbed four gold medals among his seven total, but the 26-year-old acknowledged he had plenty of work to do.
"There are a lot of things that are going to really help me for motivation over the next year and there are a lot of small things that I can change," he said. "We have 12 months to prepare for London, and that's what I plan on doing."
Despite her youth, Franklin stamped herself an international star with three golds among her five medals in Shanghai.
She followed that up in October by breaking the short course 200m backstroke world record.
The bubbly teenager was presented her award as outstanding US swimmer of the year by Janet Evans, a four-time Olympic champion who starred at the 1988 Seoul Games and this year mounted a comeback.
The 39-year-old mother of two wasn't the only golden oldie eyeing a return to glory in the pool as Aussie great Ian Thorpe, compatriot Libby Trickett and American Brendan Hansen also opted to plunge back into the pool.
Thorpe stunned the swimming world when he retired at age 24.
"At that time, I didn't think I'd compete again...so I surprised myself that I wanted to do this," he said, adding he had witnessed incredible progress in swimming during his retirement.
"What's fantastic about this progression is that it's from all over the world. It's not one or two countries...but it's really spreading throughout the world."
With that in mind, British swimmers continued to show they aim to claim their share of the spoils in home waters next year.
Rebecca Adlington, a double Olympic gold medallist in Beijing, won the 800m freestyle world title and was voted Sportswoman of the Year by Britain's sports journalists.