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By Pedro Fonseca
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian rowers Fabiana Beltrame and Luana Bartholo teamed up only two months ago, have competed just once and not practised together since they qualified for the Olympics because their boat was stuck in customs in Argentina.
Despite these hurdles, they still look to be Brazil's main hope of reaching a final in the regatta at the London Games.
Fabiana became Brazil's first rowing world champion in Bled, Slovenia last year but the lightweight single sculls in which she won gold is not an Olympic discipline.
So the 30-year-old sought a partner to take part in the lightweight double sculls in London.
"They're very different things. I was rowing alone, now I'm with Luana, who is making her national team debut but I think we're getting the respect of our adversaries," Fabiana told Reuters.
"They certainly know that we exist," she said in a joint interview at Lagos Rodrigo de Freitas, her training base which will be the rowing venue at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"Alone I can row my own way, I haven't got anyone accompanying me. In the double sculls the main thing is synchronization, the harmony between the two of us, the team," said Fabiana, who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Games.
"Unlike other Olympics that I have competed in, I'm really aiming at good results. I think we can maybe make it to the final round.
"But it will be very difficult because our boat is new and we have only been practicing together for two months.
"The first time Luana competed for the national team was during the pre-Olympic competitions and we had good results. But we still have several months to train and improve," she said.
Luana, a 26-year-old journalist, treated her sport as a secondary activity until 2010 when she went into rowing full time after partnering Fabiana in winning a bronze medal at a World Cup event in Switzerland.
Competition to become Fabiana's partner took place before the Olympic qualifying regatta in Argentina in March when the pair raced for the first and so far only time and went through to London in second place behind the home pair, Milk Kraljev and Clara Rohner.
"It's going to be my first official competition and making a debut at an Olympics already makes me tense but with Fabiana it's easier," Luana said.
"I'm really nervous, but at the same time I feel quite safe being Fabiana's partner, since she's already a world champion and has 15 years of experience and two Olympic Games behind her, so I think that makes me more confident."
Training for London was disrupted when their boat was delayed in Argentine customs as it was being transported back to Brazil.
The box containing the boat was not painted according to international regulations, the Brazilian Rowing Confederation said, delaying its return from Buenos Aires for three weeks and the women had to practice in separate boats.
"We're practising in separate boats but the (single) sculls is the basis for all boats so to improve technique and fitness the sculls is very good," Fabiana said, though she added they would have to work hard on coordination.
"We have to row together lots and lots and each one get used to the others' rowing, especially she to mine because I'm the stroke," added Fabiana, whose best results have come since 2010 after a year's break to have a child.
Before last year's world title, she had already won Brazil's first rowing gold medal at a World Cup event in Germany and finished fourth at the 2010 world championships in New Zealand.
She weighed 65 kilograms before she became a mother and was in the heavy category, but now at 59 kilos she has dropped into the lightweights.
If the pair's goal is to reach an Olympic final in London, the longer term target is Brazil's first Olympic medal at the Rio Games in 2016.
"We must keep our feet on the ground, think that nice and slowly we can get there and who knows, we might get a medal in 2016," Fabiana said.
"We'll train this boat, plan for four years, which is a short time, to try to get a good result here in Brazil."
(Additional reporting by Thales Carneiro; writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; editing by Julian Linden)
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