For most of his 22 years growing up in a swim-crazed family and growing into a protégé of the most decorated swimmer in history, Chase Kalisz has longed to carve out his own place on the Olympic stage.
Now that Kalisz, from Bel Air, is officially there, he won't have to wait. Kalisz will be his country's top medal hope in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday, the first day of swimming competition at the 2016 Games.
Bethesda resident Katie Ledecky, the dominant female swimmer in the world, could also make her Rio debut in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay Saturday.
Ledecky will swim four more events over the course of the Olympic swimming program, which lasts through Aug. 13. But for Kalisz, Saturday's race is it — his chance to make good on a lifetime of work and aspiration.
His coach, Bob Bowman, said he seems ready for the moment.
"Chase is doing very well," Bowman wrote in a text Thursday. "He trained much better after [Olympic] trials."
Kalisz grew up trying to catch his older sister, Courtney, as she set state age-group records and ultimately made the U.S. national team. Then he switched his sights to the best swimmer at his Baltimore club, who just happened to be Michael Phelps.
He evolved from an eager kid, nipping at Phelps' heels and trading the Olympian's autographs for swag, to a legitimate training partner for the greatest of all time. Now he hopes to pick up Phelps' former mantle as the best 400 IM swimmer in the world.
The race is too arduous for Phelps' 31-year-old body, and even Kalisz, nine years his junior, describes the 400 IM as more about suffering than fun.
But he has become his country's best in the event, which he proved at Olympic Trials by beating 2012 Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte.
Bowman felt Kalisz was unusually tense before that final in Omaha, Neb. He swam well enough to win, especially on a commanding breaststroke leg that put Lochte away, but he did not post a time likely to win him gold in Rio.
"I think he was wound tight as a drum when he walked out there," Bowman said. He added that Kalisz can and will need to trim at least two seconds off his trials time to beat the imposing Japanese duo of Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto.
Hagino holds the best time in the world this year, and Seto was the 2015 world champion in the event. Kalisz posted the second-best time of 2016 at trials and won a bronze medal at world championships last year, so he's competitive with the Japanese but not generally favored to win gold.
"They're unbelievable and those two have been the best for the past few years," Kalisz said after his trials win. "I've got to be competitive with those guys, and I know I've got a lot of things I need to work on."
None of these swimmers have shown they're likely to challenge Phelps' world record from 2008 or even Lochte's winning time from 2012.
But Kalisz will likely not be thinking about that if he has a medal around his neck Saturday night.
Meanwhile, it's unclear if Ledecky will make her Rio debut in the 4x100 relay Saturday. She was not among the top four swimmers in the 100 freestyle at trials, but U.S. women's coach Dave Marsh could still put her in the relay if he believes she will give the American team its best chance to win.
Ledecky has said she'd like to swim in the relay, though she was originally a distance phenom and has only become an elite sprinter in the past two years. Unlike most of her peers, she was perhaps not fully rested going into trials, so Marsh might conclude she'll be significantly faster here.
Phelps' close friend and training partner, Allison Schmitt, is also expected to swim the relay.
Based on recent times, the U.S. team, led by Abbey Weitzeil and Simone Manuel, is a significant underdog to Australia. In 2012, the Americans, including Schmitt, won bronze behind Australia and the Netherlands.
Regardless of whether she debuts in the relay or in the 400-meter freestyle Sunday, Ledecky seemed calm as ever in the days leading up to the grandest showcase of her career.
"I mean this in a positive way, but she doesn't care," said Bruce Gemmell, her coach at the Nation's Capital Swim Club. "She doesn't care that it's the Olympics any more than she cares that it's a championship meet at home, any more than she cares that it's her high school championship. She gets excited about all of it."
Gemmell said that even temperament, which becomes apparent anytime the 19-year-old opens her mouth, is essential to her numbing consistency in the biggest events.
"I think that absolutely allows her to compete at the level she does and do it so consistently," he said. "The one who might get caught up in it more might be able to rise to the occasion here and there. But to do it with her consistency, it probably comes from that."
The 400 freestyle will likely give the world its first glimpse of Ledecky's almost absurd dominance. She burst on the scene by winning a gold medal in the 800 freestyle in 2012, when she was a largely unknown 15-year-old. But Ledecky has become something else entirely in the four years since — the world's most dominant and dependable swimmer.
Unlike Phelps, she can still walk through the Olympic Village without being overwhelmed by attention. But that might not last much longer.
She recalled 2012, when she was an enthusiastic kid, screaming for her teammates from the stands at almost every race. She'll be busier this time and also more businesslike.
She seemed amused Wednesday when a journalist asked what makes her so good.
"I don't know," Ledecky said. "I just work hard and try my best every time I go up on the blocks."
A boring answer on the surface, but for her, absolutely true.