If there is an element of the unknown this weekend for Natalie Coughlin when she races competitively in a pool for the first time in over three years, then of one thing the 12-time Olympic medallist - to women's swimming in the 2000s what Michael Phelps was to men's - is more than certain about.
“I’m not trying to make the 2020 Tokyo team, I’m not trying to make a full comeback by any means,” says the 37-year-old before adding: “But I want to show support for this new league.”
The league in question is the new International Swimming League (ISL) which launches this weekend in Indianapolis and one which organisers are promising will “shift the paradigms” of the sport. For many swimmers, the view is that it is long overdue.
Taking the form of a fast-paced, team-competition over short-course metres, the league, bankrolled by billionaire businessman Konstantin Grigorishin, offers them the chance to compete regularly outside of the Olympic Games, as well as receive healthy financial incentives and year-round recognition.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the next generation of swimmers, both financially and competitively - it provides racing opportunities that are not otherwise there,” says Coughlin.
"I think a lot of people have thought about it and have attempted to try it previously. The ISL and Konstantin, they are really the first ones to make it a reality. It’s really exciting."
Four mixed gender teams apiece from the US and Europe will meet in a series of competitions across the two continents, culminating in a grand final in Las Vegas in December for the top four clubs to accumulate the most points. ISL organisers claim 75 per cent of swimmers taking part are Olympians and world record holders, with Adam Peaty, Ben Proud and Hannah Miley among those flying the flag for Britain and 13-time world champion Caeleb Dressel, South Africa’s four-time Olympic medallist Chad le Clos and five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky just some of the other global names.
“It’s really incredible how nearly every great swimmer in the world has signed up to the do it. It’s amazing that in an Olympic year, all these people are supporting it," she continues.
"There is a hunger to watch people compete outside of the Olympics. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen how spectators really get into it. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the Olympic Games, you get to see the best in the world race at a great event."
Coughlin is not the only swimmer to have been tempted back into competitive action, for example France’s London 2012 50m freestyle champion Florent Manaudou announced he was ending his two-year hiatus and joined the ISL’s Energy Standard team.
Coughlin is attached to American side DC Trident, although she had a little more to consider when contemplating a return, most notably the fact she had become a mother to daughter Zennie last October.
She had purposely never announced she was ‘retired’ from the sport but priorities had changed since last racing in the 2016 US Olympic trials, motherhood included but also other career interests such as a cookbook and winery. So when former teammate Kaitlin Sandeno, general manager of DC Trident, got in contact earlier this year, an immediate green light was not forthcoming.
“She asked if I would be interested in the ISL, I said no, I haven’t been swimming much and I really didn’t have much interest,” she explains.
“And she was like ‘its only for 50m and it would be short course’. That was enough to plant the seed in my brain and about three days later I accepted it.
“I thought it would be a really good motivator to get back into shape after having a baby. I’m the sort of person who needs to be held accountable and I need something hanging over my head to be motivated.
“I miss having a purpose when I go to the gym and when I swim in the pool. I miss having something to train for."
Understandably for someone who was a little over five months into motherhood when the ISL call came in, getting race ready took time and patience.
Coughlin, who is the joint most decorated female American Olympic swimmer ever, ran and hiked throughout her pregnancy and discovered her stroke rate and strength was in relative shape upon her return to the pool - although some things took a little longer to regain.
"After having the baby, the hardest part was my abs going back together. A lot of people don’t realise but when you have a baby, your abs completely split down the middle," she says.
"I didn’t even do underwater dolphin kicks until late in the summer. I didn’t want to damage my body. It’s been really fun. But it’s been challenging. Before swimming was the number one priority and now it’s kind of on the back burner.”
The latest fine-tuning has involved reacquainting herself with going off starting blocks and she believes she will be feeling a combination of nerves and excitement when she makes her return over the coming days.
With 12 Olympic medals, the most by any American woman in sport, and 20 World Championships medals, the most ever by a female swimmer, she will certainly not be able to slip quietly back into the water, however low her performance expectations are.
One of the aims of the ISL is to take swimming to an even wider audience and create more household names within the sport - broadcast deals in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Latin America and Europe helping to project that target.
With a total of 60 medals in major international competition, Coughlin was rightly a star in her own right at her peak. But does she believe her achievements garnered enough recognition at the time, especially when compared to the relative increased attention towards sportswomen since she left the sport?
"I definitely think so (in answer to recognition)" she says before elaborating further: "I had wonderful companies that I worked with and sponsors and USA Swimming supported me and the media supported me. I got a lot of great support.
"It was just the fact that the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, happened to be swimming next to me at the same. The greatest swimmer in history, the greatest Olympian in history, was my teammate for all those years. He obviously got very deserved attention that was well earned.
"I personally would never have been able to handle the amount of attention that he received."