In the third edition of our series “Olympics and Royal Love Stories”, we look at the meeting and marriage of Infanta Cristina of Spain to Iñaki Urdangarín.
Infanta Cristina of Spain is the middle child of the former King of Spain, Juan Carlos and his wife, Queen Sofia, who was a Greek princess by birth. She’s also the older sister to Spain’s current monarch, King Felipe. She was on the sailing team representing Spain at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, and was given the honour of carrying the Spanish flag for the opening ceremony. Cristina travelled to Atlanta, Georgia, USA, for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games to cheer on the Spanish competitors.
Iñaki Urdangarin was a professional handball player for FC Barcelona Handbol who was playing for Team Spain competing in Atlanta. He had previously competed with Team Spain in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. Iñaki would play on one of the most successful teams in Spanish handball and achieve the bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympic Games (and later in Sydney in 2000, as well). They met during a celebration of the bronze medal, where Cristina was reported to have asked, “Who is that blonde?” Friends of Iñaki have said that he was a bit of a playboy, but everything changed after he met Cristina. They started dating after they returned to Barcelona and were able to keep it quiet for a time due to the discretion of their close friends.
On 3 May 1997, Cristina and Iñaki appeared in front of the press to announce their engagement in the gardens of Zarzuela Palace. The couple married on 4 October 1997 in Barcelona Cathedral in front of more than 1,500 guests. Upon their marriage, they became the Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca. For a time, they were the darlings of the Spanish media, but that would not last forever. They have four children: Don Juan Urdangarín y de Borbón, Don Pablo Urdangarín y de Borbón, Don Miguel Urdangarín y de Borbón, and Doña Irene Urdangarín y de Borbón.
Recently, the couple were surrounded in controversy. Both Cristina and Iñaki have been put on trial for corruption, which includes money laundering and embezzlement of funds in excess of £4.5 million. This was through the non-profit organisation, the Noos Institute, which Cristina had been a member of the board. The Noos Institute was directed by Iñaki.
As a result, Cristina’s younger brother, King Felipe revoked their titles as the Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca. Her title is now just Her Royal Highness the Infanta Doña Cristina of Spain. However, her place, and her children’s place, in the line of succession was not changed. The abdication of her father, King Juan Carlos was also attributed to this scandal. The popularity of the Spanish royal family has also taken a nosedive, as a result. In 2013, El País, a Spanish newspaper, reported their approval rating was at 3.68 out of 10.
The trial began in January 2016, and Cristina argued that she was not aware of her husband’s activities. The final verdict has yet to be rendered, but it is expected to be announced within the coming months.