When these guys run, they run, and swim, and golf . . . Candidates keeping an eye on today's fitness emphasis.

February 18, 1992|By Boston Globe

If you believe their stump speeches and resumes, this year's presidential candidates are the most impressive collection of athletes ever assembled under one political tent.

There's Paul Tsongas, world-class swimmer.

George Bush, fisherman, hunter, jogger and master of automatic bikes and Stairmaster machines.

Tom Harkin, walker, trying to keep pace with runners Bill Clinton, Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown.

And Bob Kerrey, who plays a mean game of racquetball, knows his way around the tennis court and golf course. He also skis, bowls and runs marathons. All with asthma -- and a wooden leg.

Is this melding of sports and politics a coincidence?

Hardly, sports sages and political pundits agree.

It's partly an acknowledgment of the increasingly central role sports and fitness play in society. More and more Americans are eating healthy food, joining health clubs and testing their physical limits with rigorous regimens of jogging, tennis or power walking. Even those who prefer watching to doing are watching more than ever of everything from basketball and football to the Olympics.

"Fitness is the in thing," said Dr. Kenneth Cooper, head of the world-famous Cooper Clinic in Dallas. "Even with the recession, we're seeing a booming business here at our health center."

"You have to be in shape" to hold the job, Dr. Cooper says. "You can't be productive and alert and responsible unless you're maintaining a high level of physical fitness."

Beyond its general appeal as a motherhood-and-apple-pie issue, the mantle of sportsman holds a specific allure for each candidate.

The fitness issue may pose the greatest hazard for Mr. Bush, who at 67 is 14 years older than the next-oldest candidate. He also has experienced a series of health troubles, including a thyroid disorder that led to irregular heart rhythms, glaucoma and a "stomach flu" that made him vomit at a recent state dinner in Japan.

Mr. Buchanan, his 53-year-old Republican challenger, may not look like an athlete. But Tess Petis, his press secretary in New Hampshire, insists he "jogs every day.

Contrasting Mr. Buchanan's youth and vitality with the president's, she adds, "is part of our strategy." But she acknowledges that Mr. Buchanan is not a long-distance runner, generally stopping at 2 miles, about the same distance as Mr. Bush.

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