Are British medal hopes in American hands?
If Gemma Spofforth wins a gold medal for Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympic Games, you could argue the United States will deserve a thank-you note.
That despite admitting she is working "off fumes" following a competition she values more than anything else this year: the NCAA Championships in America.
Forget British trials, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Leading the University of Florida Gators to a wafer-thin victory in the fiercely-contested US collegiate championships has made Spofforth's year, before 2010 has even begun for many British swimmers.
For the past four years, the 22-year-old has lived, studied and trained in Florida, feeding off the unique intensity of American university swimming. It is an experiment British swimmers have tried before, to varying degrees of success, but it is coming good with Spofforth.
Is America the way forward? Should British swimmers be on the next flights and parking themselves in the US for the next two years? Should swimming in Britain learn from its US equivalent? Or does Britain not need any help to rule its own pool in 2012?
"I've already accomplished what I wanted to do this year," Spofforth, who grew up around Portsmouth, admitted to me as the British Championships got under way.
For most British swimmers, these six days of trials will shape their year. Places in the British squad for August's European Championships, and the various home nations' teams for October's Commonwealth Games in Delhi, could hinge on performances here.
Spofforth wants to do well but, for her, 2010 is already a success. She explained why: "Over in America we have the NCAA Championships, which are one of the biggest things an athlete can accomplish in the US.
"As a team, the University of Florida just won the national championships, which is something we haven't done in 28 years, and it's only the second time Florida has ever won it. I enjoyed that as much as, if not more than, my world record last year."
University tournament wins in Britain do not eclipse world records, but the NCAA is a world away from the British model. NCAA stands for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, an organisation which pulls together 40,000 student athletes across the US, competing in 23 sports, the vast majority of them Olympic.
"Whenever I try and explain it to anybody here in Britain, it's hard for anyone to understand the emotions we went through," continued Spofforth.
"It came down to the last relay. There was an amazing atmosphere. If anyone on the team had done something slightly different - been slightly worse in one event - we would have been second. It's one of the most amazing feelings I've ever had."
Spofforth and prosper: the 22-year-old became a world champion in Rome last year. Photo: Getty Images
All this happened just days before the British trials, so Spofforth - who spoke with laughter in her voice throughout - understandably has her mind elsewhere, admitting she is struggling to think about events in Sheffield.
"It's going to be very, very tough," she said. "It's something I am capable of, it's just going to be a case of working off of fumes and doing as much as I can to make the Commonwealths, then going back to the US to prepare for them."
And that's the thing - this is a flying visit for Spofforth. Back in the States, she captained the Florida women's team in regular duel-style meets against top rivals, while fellow Gators have included the likes of US star Ryan Lochte. America has taken over her life and work. "I've grown to be part of the family," she said.
This is the end of a gruelling four years for Spofforth, more than the beginning of a new season. Her coach in Florida, Gregg Troy, believes moving there turned her career around.
"Gemma came here at a little 'down spot' in her career, did a great job of getting things together and now she's an inspiration to everyone," Troy told the BBC.
"The entire environment [of the NCAA and American collegiate sport] is exciting. There's a tremendous following on campus for everything. It's a dynamic where you can go on with other aspects of your life and still be a great competitive athlete.
"It's a heritage of high expectations and international aspirations, and the British swimmers here had a unique scenario for us. They're very high-quality athletes, highly motivated, and they add a tremendous dynamic to the team. The team feeds off them and they feed off the team."
Spofforth's success in the US - and the American team's glory as a whole, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (where the US won 34 of 104 medals on offer) and last year's Worlds (where they won six more gold medals than any other country) - has not gone unnoticed in Britain.
British butterfly record holder Jemma Lowe is now based in Florida alongside Spofforth, telling the BBC: "At the Olympics, every time Americans win and do so well, you think: 'What are they doing over there?' So I spoke to Gemma and it's gone on from there."
It isn't just the culture of American swimming that proves tempting - there is a wider history beyond that, involving a piece of legislature called Title IX, which governs gender equality in many aspects of US life, including collegiate sport.
Title IX - which remains controversial to some - demands that NCAA universities devote equal attention, and offer the same opportunity, to both genders when it comes to sport. That doesn't necessarily mean financial parity (although in many cases, it does), but it does mean every women's sporting programme at a US university has to offer all the facilities, chances and support the men are getting - and vice versa.
That has resulted in a funding level that women's sport would doubtless not have enjoyed otherwise, and supplies NCAA women's swimming with the resources to match its other benefits.
Florida Gators fans in trademark orange-and-blue outfits. Photo: Getty Images
Not that Britain's women are bereft of support themselves, especially having drawn plenty of attention - and government funding - on the back of Rebecca Adlington's success in the pool at Beijing 2008.
And Adlington is one of several examples which show you don't have to go to America to win medals. It is still perfectly possible to train in Britain and become the world's best.
So, given she made the conscious decision to cross the pond, does Spofforth feel British Swimming should be learning any lessons from the States? She has an interesting answer which places the focus not on facilities, but fans.
"My coaches at home have been able to do really good things with me, although the facilities out here help the coaches a little bit more," she explained.
"I don't really know if it's a case of what the UK can do, rather than what the crowd [back home] can do to change.
"In the US, the crowd stand there and shout the whole way through. I was like, 'Wow'. Every person in the crowd is invested in one team or another. But it's not a rivalry where you're going to beat people up, it's a rivalry where you're having fun with it."
Coach Troy told the BBC he has already shared tips with British officials in the run-up to 2012.
"We've had some people from Loughborough here, so we get to exchange some ideas with them which is a real plus," he said.
"Britain have some scientific aspects to approaching things that are really good, and the athletes bring those things back."
Swimming in the US has plenty to offer, but the decision of Spofforth and others to train there does not mean Britain produces inferior swimmers. The two countries offer different systems, and that represents a healthy choice of contrasting lifestyles and environments for budding Olympic swimmers. Pick the one you like the most.
For Spofforth, though, the hard work starts now. The NCAA wraps its athletes up in a competitive fervour, which is a huge boost while you're there, but brings those leaving the family down to earth with a bump.
"Out in the States I couldn't have been a professional until I finished my collegiate career, which I just have in the best possible way," she explained.
"Now I have to work out where I go for the next two years. I'm a Florida Gator for life, and will be supporting my college team, but I can't race or train with them."
She concludes, to the sound of mock weeping: "I've got to figure out how to be a professional swimmer and not a Gator any more."
Figuring that out correctly is what now stands between Spofforth and gold in 2012.