With Olympic Win, Italian Kayaker Takes Home A Gold Medal ... And A Vineyard

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Daniele Molmenti works on the "golden vineyard." He and his cousin bought the land after a bet -- and an Olympic gold medal. (Courtesy Daniele Molmenti)
Daniele Molmenti works on the "golden vineyard." He and his cousin bought the land after a bet -- and an Olympic gold medal. (Courtesy Daniele Molmenti)

This story isn't really about sports. It's about family — and wine. Specifically, prosecco.

The main characters are two cousins. The first is Fede Celot.

"My full name is Federico," he explains. "But it's too long. So they call me Fede."

The second is Daniele Molmenti.

"And I'm a full Italian-Stallion," Daniele notes.

Fede and Daniele are from the northeastern part of Italy, up near the Alps, where the grapes for prosecco are grown.

As kids, the cousins couldn't have been much more different from each other. By the time he was 20, Daniele was a world-class kayaker. Fede was not.

"If Daniele's a role model for sports, I am a role model as well, but as an anti-role model," Fede explains.

"What was it like for you to have this amazingly athletic cousin?" I ask.

"I just ignore him. It was the only way," Fede says. "You know, Daniele's the handsome one, Daniele's the sportsman, Daniele is the sexiest one. I am the one — I don't know — who is good at math. So that's the only thing I can say."

Fede moved to London and worked as an engineer.

Daniele went to the Olympics.

In 2008 in Beijing, Daniele reached the final in the kayak slalom. He finished 10th. He thought he should've done better.

'It Was Clear He Was Going For All Or Nothing'

So he started training for the 2012 London Games. He spent the winters in Nottingham in the U.K.

He cut out junk food, cut out alcohol. Daniele was focused.

At least, most of the time.

See, Fede was still living just a couple hours away in London. And on weekends, Fede tried to put his cousin through an "alternative training program." It consisted of trips to tantalizing London food markets.

"I think at the time, Daniele did find some time to actually drink a little bit — a little bit, just a little bit of a glass," Fede says. "And maybe some food that you wouldn't recommend it as part of the healthy diet. But, Daniele, maybe you were on a break?"

"He said to me, 'Fede ... 'If I'm gonna win the gold medal at the Olympics, I think we should buy something that reminds us about our land -- and clearly a vineyard.'"

Frederico Celot

Daniele says a day with his cousin cancelled out four days of training. But despite Fede’s concerted effort to slow down his cousin, Daniele managed to win gold medals at the 2010 World Championships and 2011 European Championships.

Leading up to the 2012 Olympics, Fede could tell his cousin was ready.

"And I have to say — now I'm not joking — the look in his eyes would tell you everything," Fede says. "It was clear that he was going for all or nothing."

"So you knew he was gonna do it?" I ask.

"Yeah, frankly," Fede says. "However, not enough. Because otherwise I would never have accepted the bet."

Yes — the bet.

A Gold Medal For A Vineyard

About a month before the start of the Games, Fede and Daniele were out in Central London for one of Fede's alternative training days. This particular session was being held near Borough Market.

"Absolutely out of the blue, he said to me, 'Fede, if I'm gonna win' — and I quote — 'the gold medal at the Olympics.' Yeah, not a medal. 'If I'm gonna win the gold medal at the Olympics, I think we should buy something that reminds us of our land — and clearly a vineyard,'" Fede recalls. "Which I thought it was a very nice thing to say. But, frankly, when he said 'the gold medal,' I said, 'Yeah, yeah, whatever Daniele. Yes, of course, of course. We're gonna do it. Yeah.'"

The terms of the bet were set: If Daniele won gold, the cousins would buy a vineyard together. And if he didn't, Daniele would buy Fede a beer.

A beer. Not even a glass of wine.

"Basically I was the loser either way," Fede says. "I didn't work out the odds very well."

Unlike  Fede, Daniele had been working out the odds. He knew he had a good shot at winning gold — and the Italian Olympic committee’s 140,000-euro prize that would come with it. And the thought of buying a vineyard had been bubbling up for a while.

"When I win some race, I always spend the money drinking wine," Daniele jokes. "So if I produce my own wine, I can save lots of money."

Can’t fault that logic.

Daniele celebrates his victory. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Daniele celebrates his gold medal victory. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)

So the Olympics began, and Daniele once again reached the finals of the kayak slalom.

Fede watched from the bleachers. He was nervous.

Daniele was relaxed.

Minutes before his own run, Daniele watched one of his top rivals, Vavrinec Hradilek of the Czech Republic, finish with an impressive time of 94.78.

"And I was next to my coach," Daniele says. "And I remember my coach was looking at me, like, very worried. And I say to my coach — like, I was sorry for him, because you're not thinking I can be faster. So I say to him, 'Well, I do half of a second faster.'"

Daniele took his turn.

He wasn’t a half-second faster. He was a second-and-a-half faster.

No one came close to his time.

Daniele, still in his kayak, splashed around, shouting in celebration.

You probably won't be shocked to learn that Fede had a very different reaction.

"I start to cry by the emotion a little bit, and everyone thinks that it was just the joy," he says. "Yes, it definitely was the joy. But, actually, sudden realization that I had to find the money to honor the bet. And that definitely made me cry quite a lot."

The Bet Is Honored

Daniele (left) and Fede on the vineyard. (Courtesy Fede Celot)
Daniele (left) and Fede on the vineyard. (Courtesy Fede Celot)

A couple days after the competition, after spending time with his cousin, Fede started to regain some hope.

"We had dinner. We had a couple of drinks," he says. "And, you know, no mention whatsoever. And, clearly, I thought that he had forgotten about it. And then, just before he went to bed, he said to me, 'Fede, you remember about the bet, right? So, we're going to buy the vineyard, right? So when I go back to Italy, I'm going to go and start to look around, OK? Anyway, it's late now. Good night.' That was it."

Daniele returned to Italy and found a plot of land in the Northeast. The cousins pooled their money, and, with the addition of a hefty loan, they bought it.

They call it the "Golden Vineyard." It's a fitting title — Daniele ended up putting his winnings from the Olympics and other competitions into the land.

In 2014, the first bottle of Molmenti-Celot prosecco was sold.

Daniele's athletic career is now over. He coaches the Italian national team and works a couple days a week in the vineyard.

Meanwhile, Fede works on the financial side of the operation from London, where he still has his day job. He says it will be years before the loan is paid off.

But the guy who cried when he realized he’d have to honor the bet now says he’s in it for the long haul.

"It is hard work," Fede says. "But I'm doing it with Daniele. And that makes the difference. And we are having a lot of fun. I’m really pleased that he made that bet with me, and I’m so pleased that I lost it."

Still, Fede has made a resolution: He’s never, ever, going to make another bet with his cousin.

To read more about Fede and Daniele's story, check out this story from Munchies

This segment aired on April 8, 2017.


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Martin Kessler Producer, Only A Game
Martin Kessler is a producer at Only A Game.



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