Shanghai: US swimming legend Michael Phelps knows he has a year of hard graft ahead after the world championships, while China can be quietly confident of making a big splash at the London Olympics.
Phelps was forced to play second fiddle in Shanghai to team-mate Ryan Lochte, who starred with five golds, and he also had to share the limelight with Missy Franklin, 16, who enjoyed a breakthrough meet.
And although the United States were once again runaway medals leaders with 16 golds in the pool, China finished second, boosted by 19-year-old Sun Yang, who wiped out Grant Hackett`s 10-year-old 1500m freestyle record on the final night.
A mere mortal might be happy with four golds among a haul of seven medals to show for a week`s efforts, but for Phelps it is verging on a flop after his eight-title spree at the Beijing Olympics.
"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," said Phelps, 26, who will retire after the London Games.
"We have 12 months to prepare for London, and that`s what I plan on doing."
Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 200m freestyle and then in world record time in the 200m individual medley, is a reluctant hero but he proved decisively he is now the man to beat.
"Honestly, I don`t really think I`m the top dog," he said, adding: "No matter what the outcome of the end of the year championship meet, right afterwards I knock myself down to the bottom of the totem pole.
"So I have a whole year to work hard, train hard to get back up to the top. So as far as I`m concerned right now I`m at the bottom of swimming."
The performances of Franklin drew comparisons with a young Phelps after she won five medals including three golds, but the bubbly teen was quick to distance herself from the link, focusing instead on her joy.
"There are really no words to describe it right now. I am so, so happy. I`ve never been this happy in my entire life. It has been such an incredible meet," said the high school student.
And on Sunday`s final night of action another teenager, China`s Sun, stormed on to the world stage by erasing the record of Australia`s Hackett, winning a second gold to add to his 800m freestyle title and 400m silver.
It was only the second world record in Shanghai, contrasting with the staggering 43 set two years ago in Rome before a ban on high-tech, polyurethane swimsuits.
Sun`s performance provided a rousing finish for a championships that opened under a doping cloud when Brazil`s Cesar Cielo was cleared to swim despite testing positive for a banned diuretic.
The let-off led to disquiet among some athletes and one competitor gave the Olympic 50m freestyle champion the "thumbs-down" gesture after Cielo won the 50m butterfly.
In the diving competition, China finally bagged an elusive 10 out of 10 gold medals, capping a decade of dominance -- and despite the retirement of "diving queen" Guo Jingjing.
China`s mastery was so complete that they not only won all the gold medals, but enjoyed a one-two finish in four out of six individual events.
The open water swimming competition was marred by fears over soaring temperatures, prompting anger and a swathe of withdrawals and even saw a US swimmer forced out by her own team midway through the 25km.
Last year, American Olympic bronze medallist Fran Crippen died during a 10km race held in hot conditions in United Arab Emirates, a tragedy that rocked the sport and prompted a wide-ranging safety crackdown.
Russia`s "dream team" swept all seven golds in synchronised swimming, led by undisputed "synchro queen" Natalia Ishchenko, who bagged six golds.
Italy beat mighty Serbia to claim their first men`s water polo title at the world championships in 17 years and in the women`s competition Greece edged China to take gold.