The competitive desire remains fierce, but Mahe Drysdale's world championship thinking is also dipped in a coating of reality.
The four-time world champion single sculler has been working with a new training regime to compensate for a long-term back problem.
He's still among the best in the single seat going into the world championships at Bled, Slovenia, starting tomorrow. He pushed current world No 1 Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic hard in their most recent battle, at the Lucerne World Cup regatta in Switzerland last month.
But the 32-year-old Aucklander freely admits he's not as fast as he was pre-injury. Even so ...
"That was definitely encouraging, that I was back on track, still competitive and right up there," he said.
"But I don't feel like I'm as good as I know I can be. 2009 was probably my best year. I've still got a bit to go but fitness-wise, I feel pretty good, so it's just a technical thing to try and get that next step up."
Having said that, Drysdale has a long game in mind. Sure, he wants another world title, but it's London and next year's Olympics which are his primary focus.
Qualifying places are on the line in Bled - the number of automatic spots vary among the 14 classes, but in Drysdale's case the top 11 out of a bumper field of 36 will progress.
Drysdale has changed his training regime to ease the workload on his back.
Where the rest of the New Zealand squad generally have two sessions on the water five days a week, Drysdale hops on his bike in the afternoon and does an equivalent amount of work with an apparatus which doesn't further exacerbate the back problem.
"It's 100 per cent to do with the back," he said.
"I can take a certain amount of load. After that, it doesn't handle it too well. The worst thing is extension and when I row you go into extension 2000 times or so in a session. The back can take 2000, but not 4000."
For all that, Drysdale is feeling optimistic about his London chances.
"I'm going in to win it in Bled. That's the only way I know, but if it doesn't come off I'm not going to be hugely disappointed because next year is the big one."
Olympic qualification for New Zealanders in several classes should be elementary. But some might have a difficult task.
They include lightweight double scullers Lucy Strack and Louise Ayling. They finished 8th overall at the Lucerne regatta and must be in the top eight next weekend.
Double scullers Fiona Paterson and Anna Reymer were 6th in Lucerne and must be inside the first eight at Bled; the men's eight were 10th overall in Switzerland and must make the first seven to advance.
Racing starts at 7.30pm tomorrow (NZT) and finals are spread over three days from next Friday.
Olympics in mind
* The world championships start in Bled, Slovenia, tomorrow night, and double as the Olympic Games qualifying regatta for London next year.
* New Zealand have three defending champion crews - coxless pairs Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh, and Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, and double scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan.
* New Zealand are attempting to qualify crews in 12 of the 14 Olympic classes, the exceptions being the women's eight and men's lightweight coxless four. The regatta also includes eight non-Olympic events and five Paralympic adaptive events.