A stunning first round throw of 86.59 metres earned Neeraj Chopra direct qualification in the final. Can he improve on it and give India gold?
All eyes will be on Neeraj Chopra to deliver India's elusive Olympic medal in athletics and end a wait of 100 years when he competes in the men's Javelin Throw final, in Tokyo, on Saturday.
A pre-tournament medal contender, the 23-year-old Chopra fuelled the country's expectations by topping the qualification round with a stunning first round throw of 86.59 metres.
Three track and field athletes were part of the five-member Indian team at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium -- the other two being wrestlers. Since then, no Indian has won a medal in athletics.
The International Olympic Committee still credits Norman Pritchard's 200 metres and 200m hurdles silver medals in the 1900 Paris Olympics to India though various research, including records of the then IAAF (now World Athletics), show that he competed for Great Britain.
A farmer's son from Khandra village, near Panipat in Haryana, who took up athletics to shed flab, Chopra can script history by winning that elusive medal, which slipped from the grasp of the likes of the late Milkha Singh and P T Usha in the 1964 and 1984 editions.
"I am at my first Olympic Games, and I feel very good. In warm-up my performance wasn't so good, but then (in the qualifying round) my first throw had a good angle, and was a perfect throw," Chopra said after the qualifying round on Wednesday.
"I will need to focus on the throw, and try to repeat this (performance) with a higher score," said the youngster, who came into the Olympics with the fourth best throw (88.07m) this year.
Chopra's performance on Saturday was one of the best by an Indian at an Olympics, as he finished ahead of gold medal favourite and 2017 World champion Johannes Vetter of Germany.
Vetter, who had earlier said Chopra will find it tough to beat him in the Olympics, struggled with his first two throws before crossing the automatic qualification mark with a 85.64m final effort.
The 28-year-old towering German, who came into the Olympics after having seven monster throws of over 90m between April and June, was lying at a dangerous seventh position after his first two throws but eventually qualified for the final second overall, behind Chopra.
Ask all top athletes and they will say that what counts is the performance on the day. Chopra will go into Saturday's final with a host of pre-tournament medal hopefuls falling at the first hurdle.
The season's second top performer Marcin Krukowski (PB & SB 89.55m) of Poland and 2012 Olympics champion and 2016 Rio Games bronze-medallist Trinidad & Tobago's Keshorn Walcott (PB 90.16m, SB 89.12m) failed to qualify for the final with best throws of 74.65m and 79.33m respectively.
Latvia's 2014 under-20 World champion Gatis Cakss (PB & SB 87.57m) -- fifth best performer this season -- and reigning World champion Anderson Peters of Grenada had poor throws of 78.73m and 80.42m respectively to fail to make the final cut.
Only Chopra and Vetter remain among the top-five performers this season.
Pakistan's Arshad Nadeem, who won a bronze medal when Chopra clinched gold in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, topped Group B to earn automatic qualification to the finals with a second-round throw of 85.16m.
He qualified for the final at overall third, behind Chopra and Vetter.
The Indian camp in Tokyo is hoping that Saturday will turn out the finest day in Indian athletics.
"I have always wanted an Olympic medal since I first became AFI president (in 2012) and I am hoping the dream will be realised before the end of my term," Athletics Federation of India President Adille Sumariwalla said.
Sumariwalla's third term as AFI president will end in 2024 and he cannot be re-elected under the National Sports Code.
Sumariwalla and Klaus Bartonietz, the bio-mechanics expert in charge of Chopra, and chief national coach Radhakrishnan Nair were seen cheering Chopra from the almost empty stands on Saturday.
On Saturday, the Indian athletics contingent is expected to be in full strength at the Olympic Stadium, hoping history is created by Chopra.