Constantine, last king of Greece and Olympic gold medalist, dies at 82

Constantine
Constantine

ATHENS, Greece — Constantine, the former and last king of Greece, who won an Olympic gold medal before becoming entangled in his country’s volatile politics in the 1960s as king and spent decades in exile, has died. He was 82.

Doctors at the private Hygeia Hospital in Athens confirmed to The Associated Press that Constantine died late Tuesday after treatment in an intensive care unit but had no further details pending an official announcement.

When he acceded to the throne as Constantine II 1964 at the age of 23, the youthful monarch, who had already achieved glory as an Olympic gold medalist in sailing, was hugely popular. By the following year he had squandered much of that support with his active involvement in the machinations that brought down the elected Center Union government of prime minister George Papandreou.

The episode involving the defection from the ruling party of several lawmakers, still widely known in Greece as the “apostasy,” destabilized the constitutional order and led to a military coup in 1967. Constantine eventually clashed with the military rulers and was forced into exile.

The dictatorship abolished the monarchy in 1973, while a referendum after democracy was restored in 1974 dashed any hopes that Constantine had of ever reigning again.

Reduced in the following decades to only fleeting visits to Greece that raised a political and media storm each time, he was able to settle again in his home country in his waning years when opposing his presence no longer held currency as a badge of vigilant republicanism. With minimal nostalgia for the monarchy in Greece, Constantine became a relatively uncontroversial figure.

Constantine was born June 2, 1940 in Athens, to Prince Paul, younger brother to King George II and heir presumptive to the throne, and princess Frederica of Hanover. His older sister Sophia is the wife of former King Juan Carlos I of Spain. The Greek-born Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh and husband of the late Queen Elizabeth II, was an uncle.

Constantine was educated at a boarding school and then attended three military academies as well as Athens Law School classes as preparation for his future role. He also competed in various sports, including sailing and karate, in which he held a black belt.

In 1960, aged 20, he and two other Greek sailors won a gold medal in the Dragon Class — now no longer an Olympic class — at the Rome Olympics. While still a prince, Constantine was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee and became an honorary member for life in 1974.

Per Olympedia.org, Constantine “finished only 10th in the first race, but then finished no worse than fourth in any of the last six races to win the gold medal by over 1,000 points over the Argentine crew aboard Tango. [Constantine] received the traditional dunking in honor of his victory, as he was pushed into the water by his mother, Queen Frederika.”

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Constantine, last king of Greece and Olympic gold medalist, dies at 82 originally appeared on NBCSports.com