David OwenThe year 2012 was all about London, but now the Olympic Movement's focus is about to shift - to Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo.

In less than a week's time, next Monday (January 7), this trio of combatants in the battle for the right to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics must submit Candidature Files giving an in-depth description of their respective projects to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Two months' later, in March, the IOC's Evaluation Commission, headed by Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, a former chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), will visit the three cities to inspect their plans.

Finally, on September 7, in the elegant Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, location for the 125th IOC Session, the winner will be selected by IOC members.

What may sensibly be said about the race at eight months' distance from this all-important denouement?

Well, following the withdrawal of Rome and the IOC's decision not to admit Baku and Doha into the final phase of the contest, we have been left with the shortest Summer Games shortlist I have known since I began writing about the Movement more than a decade ago.

This has left the sense of excitement surrounding the race lagging well below the levels associated with the high-octane 2012 and 2016 contests.

In this respect, the present tussle has more in common with the 2008 race, decided in Moscow in 2001, when just about everyone was convinced - rightly - that Beijing would win.

Beijing awarded 2008 OlympicsIOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch announced at Moscow in 2001 that Beijing had been awarded the 2008 Olympics following a race where they had always been favourites

The paucity of survivors does not mean that the 2020 contest is a foregone conclusion, however.

When I consulted the odds in preparing this article, it was noticeable that every company I could see had Tokyo as warm, though not red-hot, favourite.

Odds on the Japanese capital ranged from 5-11 to 8-11, compared with a range of 7-4 to 3-1 for Istanbul, and of 3-1 to 19-2 for Madrid.

While I would not quibble, at this point, with Tokyo's status as favourite, however, I do think the present range of odds probably underestimates Istanbul's chance - particularly now that UEFA boss Michel Platini appears to have ended Turkey's hopes of staging more than the odd match of the Euro 2020 football tournament.

What do the three contenders need to do to maximise their prospects of crying tears of joy, rather than grief, in Argentina?

For Madrid, the priority must be to convince IOC members that the deep economic and fiscal problems dogging Spain would not interfere with the terrifically demanding business of preparing for the Games.

While some might be surprised that Madrid is the outsider, particularly given its experience of running in the last two races - finishing a close-up third behind London and a distant second to Rio de Janeiro - it is hard at the moment not to conclude that the 2020 contest has simply come at the wrong time for the Spanish capital.

This is a pity since Spain's sporting stock – as epitomised by Rafa Nadal, Fernando Alonso and its football teams - has never been higher.

The city, moreover, seems admirably equipped in many ways to host a successful Summer Games.

But if Spain's deep-seated economic problems are beyond the power of the current bid team to influence in any significant way, and if they have lost the formidable services of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the late former IOC President, there is nonetheless one critical thing decision-makers could do to improve the prospects of this, or more likely another future Madrid bid.

This is to provide a truly compelling articulation of why the IOC ought to take its flagship product back to Spain a mere 28 years after Madrid's arch-rival Barcelona hosted the Games - and put itself firmly on the international map in the process.

Constructing a compelling narrative should, by contrast, be the least of Istanbul's problems.

Istanbul scenic viewIstanbul's bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics is boosted by the city's stunning geographical location

A uniquely picturesque city in a stunning geographical location at the crossroads of two continents, it effortlessly ticks most of the boxes for a winning Olympic story-line.

Furthermore, there is less and less reason to doubt that Turkey's fast-developing economy could cope with the demands of hosting the Games, although a successful staging of a tournament of the scale and stature of the European football championship would have underlined its readiness.

Istanbul would be an adventurous choice, but the IOC has repeatedly shown itself willing to plump for the adventurous choice in recent times - and has yet to have its fingers burnt as a consequence.

Where I think the Turkish city will have to work hardest if it is to cruise up onto Tokyo's shoulder over the next eight months is in persuading the IOC of its capacity to execute some of the more mundane tasks that are indispensable to a successful Games.

Traffic management would be one area where I would require robust assurances; security would be another.

Tokyo, I think, has successfully established itself as the safe choice for the IOC in a volatile world.

If Istanbul fails to perform to its potential, that might yet be enough.

More likely, though, the Japanese bid will need to move up a couple of gears to avoid being overtaken.

That means persuading a majority of IOC members - who gave their last big prize, the 2018 Winter Games, to another Asian city, Pyeongchang - that Tokyo is not merely a safe choice, but an enticing one as well.

After a slow start, I have a hunch that this 2020 contest is destined soon to burst into life.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here