Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid made the first cut among bidders to host the 2020 Olympics, as the International Olympic Committee announced that Baku and Doha were dropped from the running.
The IOC will decide which city will host the 2020 Olympics in a final vote on September 7, 2013, at Buenos Aires. That gives the remaining hopefuls more than 15 months to make final impressions upon the IOC to boost their candidacy.
Tokyo 2020 bid chief Tsunekazu Takeda said being on the short list would help boost the spirits of the Japanese people after last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami, which killed about 19,000 people.
"I think this will be a big help for the Japanese people," Takeda said. "I think it will give big, big power to the people who suffered the disaster."
Tokyo is the only one of the candidates to have hosted the event, doing so in 1964, and with a sound plan for hosting the Games and a powerful message, many see Tokyo as the pacesetter.
Hosting the 2020 Olympics is seen as an opportunity to help rebuild the country and bring some much-needed joy to its people.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Nodo said hosting the Games would "serve as a symbol of Japan's recovery from last year's tragedy."
"With the Japanese government's full support for Tokyo's bid, our nation greatly desires to achieve the goal of hosting the Games," he said.
Tokyo is again as in 2008 considered the frontrunner with the best technical file, but is facing fewer rivals this round, with the total number of candidate cities down from five last time.
With the 2018 Winter Olympics being held in Pyeongchang, however, there may be an unwillingness to hold back-to-back events in Asia.
Ordinarily Madrid would be seen as running close with Tokyo, having beaten them in the race for 2016 only to finish a runner-up to Rio de Janeiro.
But the specter of Spain's dire financial crisis hangs over the bid.
For serial bidder Turkey to be shortlisted after failing to win the right to host the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games made the IOC decision a landmark sign of progress for Istanbul.
"This is a historic moment," said Istanbul bid team member Hasan Arat.
Its pitch has not fundamentally changed since last time, but their bid team ironed out deficiencies in the original proposals.
"This time, Istanbul is ready to deliver," Arat said in a statement.
Istanbul, however, is also bidding to host the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship and the IOC forbids hosting two major sports event in the same year.
Many believe that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former footballer, favors hosting the UEFA competition over the Olympics. But Arat insisted, "Our priority is the Olympics."
"The chance to compete on the greatest stage in sport in front of a home crowd will inspire a generation of young people," added Hidayet Turkoglu, the national men's basketball captain who plays for the NBA's Orlando Magic.
To trim the field at this stage, IOC officials were looking mainly at a city's ability to host a major sporting event, ranking their transportation and other infrastructure challenges they face to ramp up in time for the event.
Baku also failed to make the short list last time but had said they learned from their mistakes this time. The IOC, in its decision, however, noted a lack of infrastructure and experience in hosting a major sporting event.
There was also sadness in Doha after it was cut.
"We are obviously very disappointed... (and) surprised by this decision," said Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, general secretary of the Qatar Olympic Committee.
Doha had been granted an exception to possibly host the Games in October and November when temperatures in the Mideast country are not as blistering hot, instead of the usual July and August.
Had the bid been successful, it would have been the first to bring the Games to the Middle East.
Doha scored among the top for technical ability to host the Games. And having already built or budgeted for many of the sports venues, its bid would have offered a degree of certainty in uncertain economic times.
But the furor after Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup, according to some, made IOC members reluctant to suffer the same bad press as FIFA did.