By Alistair McMurran

The Chinese women’s curling team has done the hard yards and is now challenging Canada for world supremacy in the sport.

The team of Yan Zhou, Qingshuang Yue, Yin Liu and skip Bingyu Wang won the world title in Korea in March.

The same team is favoured to win the gold medal at the inaugural New Zealand Winter Games at Naseby next week.

China demonstrated its dominance by winning both the men’s and women’s curling team titles at the Pacific championships at Naseby in November.

The women’s team won its third successive title when it beat Korea 9-4 and the men’s team gained its second successive win when it beat Japan 8-5.

The men qualified for the 2010 Olympics when they finished ninth at the world championships and shut out Australia and Finland.

Canadian Daniel Rafael, the national coach for the Chinese Curling Association for the past two years, was disappointed by the men’s performance at the world championships.

“We have developed the talent over the last two years but the team dynamics was not great in Korea,” he said.

“There was no leadership on the rink.”

Rafael has taken Hongchen Li out of retirement and put him in the lead role for the Games at Naseby.

“He is a team coach and will become a player-coach on the rink,” he said.

“He is a three-time Chinese champion.”

Rafael has hardened the competitive edge of the Chinese teams.

The men’s team did not qualify for the world championships in 2007, came fourth a year later and was ninth this year.

The women’s curling team is the world champion.

“The team has dedicated so much time to the sport,” Rafael said.

“Even in their off-season they still train and throw rocks.

“Other countries take two months off each year, but the Chinese team keeps training.”

He gave the team a month off training and took the curlers on a sightseeing trip around China.

The Chinese team members are full-time curlers and are paid by the state.

Scotland has won the men’s world title twice in the past three years and is expected to challenge Canada for the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Victoria, Canada, next year.

China beat Sweden 7-5 to win the women’s world crown in Korea and will start as the favourite at the Olympics. Denmark beat Canada for third.

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