By Martyn Herman
TOKYO (Reuters) - When Britain's male 4km team pursuit squad broke the world record twice in one day to claim gold in Rio five years ago, it seemed the bar had been raised towards its limit.
The quartet of Ed Clancy, Owain Doull, Steven Burke and Bradley Wiggins clocked 3:50.265 to narrowly beat Australia and give Britain a third successive Olympic gold.
Their winning time was only 1.4 seconds faster than their previous world record set at London 2012, which makes what has happened since all the more remarkable.
Australia were the first to raise their game, dropping the world record to 3:49.80 and then 3:48.01 in 2018 and 2019.
Then came the Danes. At the 2020 world championships in Berlin, the Danish squad didn't just break the record, they obliterated it three times in two days on the way to the gold medal.
By the time Lasse Norman Hansen, Julius Johansen, Frederik Rodenberg and Rasmus Pedersen had finished, the new benchmark in the track cycling blue riband event was 3:44.67.
Britain's women's world record of 4:10.236 set at the 2016 Olympics, where they lowered the mark three times, persists, but this week in Izu's Olympic velodrome new ground could be broken.
Clancy, bidding for a fourth Olympic gold medal in team pursuit, admits Denmark have moved the game on.
"They are kings of team pursuit right now. But this is the Great Britain team and we have done everything in the past and set that bar. We still want to win. This is the most committed team I've been with," said the 36-year-old, who will be the old head alongside Ethan Hayter, Ethan Vernon and Matt Walls.
But to retain their crown, Britain are likely to go at least seven seconds quicker than they did in Berlin last year when they outclassed Denmark, as well as New Zealand and Italy.
Dan Bigham, the former British team member and aerodynamic whiz-kid, who defected across to help the Danes in 2019 with startling results, said the world record will be lowered in Izu.
"I know that the original Team GB goal for Tokyo was it would take 3:48 to win the team pursuit, but the goalposts have moved," Bigham told Reuters.
"I think (the record) has to go. I think it will anyway. The track itself and conditions look even for an equal performance to Berlin it will go because people physiologically will be in better shape, and the track conditions will be quick.
"I expect it will go in men's and women's."
Joanna Rowsall, a key cog in the British team pursuit squad to win gold in Rio, is also convinced the game has moved on.
"The only way it won't happen is if the track conditions are really bad in Tokyo, which I'm sure they won't be," Rowsall, an analyst for Discovery, told Reuters.
"I've had a cheeky extra year as world record holder with the cancellation of the Games but I'm preparing myself mentally for it to go! I think the question is more about how much than if. Will it be 4:08 or 4:07."
Some clues will emerge on Monday when the team pursuit qualifiers are on the schedule.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson)