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Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Saturday 11th August 2012 08:49
As the son of an English father and Japanese mother, Genki Dean is no stranger to the UK, the destination for numerous childhood holidays to the paternal family home in County Durham. Last month, though, he arrived in London as one of the youngest, and most popular, members of Japan's Olympic squad.
On Saturday at the Olympic stadium, the 20-year-old has an outside chance of a medal in the men's javelin, having qualified for the final earlier this week with a throw of 82.07 metres.
Dean burst onto Japan's track and field scene in 2010, when he won the silver medal at the world junior championships, going on to achieve the second-biggest throw ever by a Japanese athlete with an 84.28-metre effort this April.
Since then, he has had to learn quickly about the minor drawbacks to being one of Japan's most sought-after Olympic athletes.
When the Guardian met him shortly before he left Tokyo, Dean was nursing a temperature and a cough, two days after he put on a public training session in the pouring rain for 80 Japanese reporters, cameramen and photographers.
Still, he summoned a broad smile, offered a predictably firm handshake and indicated that he'd prefer to speak in English, although he considers Japanese his mother tongue.
Dean secured his place in Japan's track and field team at London 2012 with a 84.03-metre throw at the Japan national athletics championships in Osaka in June. The throw set a record for the championships, ending his friend, rival and fellow London competitor Yukifumi Murakami's 12-year domination of the meeting.
For Dean, it was the realisation of a boyhood dream. "I'm very happy," he says. "Now I can repay my parents for all the help they gave me to get this far. Ever since I took up the javelin I haven't stopped thinking about how much I wanted to take part in the Olympics."
He took up the sport relatively late, having competed in the shot put and discuss while at junior high school, where students are not permitted to take part in the hammer or the javelin.
He was already 15 by the time he picked up a javelin for the first time, and immediately displayed a natural talent for the event. He was throwing well over 60 metres in his mid-teens and, in just five years, has emerged as Japan's best thrower.
In the space of a few months, Dean has transformed from relative unknown to poster boy of Japanese track and field. He is photogenic, approachable, and given to celebrating successful throws with a grin and gestures directed at his growing army of fans in the stands.
His father, John, is originally from Chester-le-Street, but Dean was born and raised in Japan and attended high school near Kobe - where his parents now live - before going on to study for a degree in sports science at Waseda University's Tokorozawa campus.
He has made more than 10 trips to the UK, but has had to sacrifice summer travel in recent years to concentrate on training and the frenetic rounds of athletics meetings. "I've never lived in England, but I like it there," he says. "I really like spending time in Chester-le-Street and Newcastle."
Until recently, Dean divided his time between training and studying. Now, he admits, he is having to acquire a new skill: handling the media. "I'm surprised by all the attention ... I've never seen anything like it," he says. "Everything is changing fast, so I just have to keep my feet on the ground."
The most frequently asked question centres, predictably, on Dean's medal prospects in London. He concedes he will have to produce something extraordinary - a throw of 86 or 87 metres - to challenge the Czech Republic's Vitezslav Vesely or Norway's Andreas Thorkildsen, who topped the two qualifying groups.
"When I'm asked, all I say is that I'll do my best," he says. "Winning a medal is not impossible, though."
Dean has spent his time in London working on his back muscles - his "weak point", he admits - honing his technique and preparing himself mentally for the biggest event of his career to date.
At 1.82 metres in height and weighing 88 kg, he is smaller than many of his competitors. He is trying to increase his bulk, but while in London has tried to steer clear of the fish and chips - "greasy but delicious" - he remembers fondly from past visits to England - and stick to his usual diet of rice, grilled chicken, fish and fruit.
Dean's father and mother, Hiroko, will be at the stadium this evening to watch their son compete on the biggest stage in athletics. Before he returns to Japan there should be time, too, to explore more of the country of his father's birth. "I guess I'll just have to ask my dad what's worth seeing," he says.