Japan's Ladies' Team Pursuit were unbeatable over the past two seasons, but at the first two ISU World Cup Speed Skating events in Tomaszów Mazowiecki and Nur-Sultan they were all over the place in various line-ups.
In front of an enthusiastic home crowd in Nagano's M-Wave at the season's fourth ISU World Cup Speed Skating, they finally got their golden Olympic line-up of the Takagi sisters Miho and Nana Takagi and Ayano Sato back together - and it showed.
Going out in the first pairing against Belgium, Japan smashed the Netherlands’ 2016 track record by more than two seconds, finishing in 2:56.37.
Japan Ladies' Team Pursuit at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (JPN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Miho Takagi was happy to have Sato back in the team.
"[Ayano] Sato picks up my pace and is able to maintain it," she said. "It's one thing to build up the speed, but if the one who comes next is not able to keep it up, it's useless. Sato is skating very well at the moment.
Miho Takagi (JPN), Nana Takagi (JPN) and Ayano Sato (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (JPN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
"But even if we have other team members racing, we have to win gold. We've got enough strong skaters. The line-up shouldn't matter."
Sato felt the support from the crowd ““We got a lot of strength from the fans. I hope this gold medal gives power to the fans too and that it makes them come back to watch us next time."