Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Fit for office: how leaders shape up

By Angelique Chrisafis, Ewen Macaskill, Will Woodward, Luke Harding, Rory Carroll, Kate Connolly, Justin McCurry, Jonathan Watts and Barbara McMahon

THE GUARDIAN , PARIS, WASHINGTON, LONDON, MOSCOW, CARACAS, BERLIN, TOKYO, BEIJING AND SYDNEY

When a head of state makes more headlines for running round the block than running the country, it brings a new meaning to "fit for office."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is seen so often pounding the pavement that satirists call him "Nike-olas".

But some voters do not appreciate the image of an energetic president in a hurry. Although running is increasingly popular in France, some see it as anathema to French culture and Western civilization, which are steeped in the more spiritual "promenade."

Others see it as a pastime imported from the US.

Sarkozy is not the only world leader to start the day with a bang, but most of his peers tend to opt for something more discreet, or more in keeping with the national esprit.

British Prime Minister GORDON Brown

Brown used to be an early-morning regular in the Westminster gym, but it is not known whether he has copied former prime minister Tony Blair by getting an exercise bike.

"I haven't asked him," Brown's spokesman said.

Brown was a champion tennis player in his youth and he told the BBC on Friday that he would play on holiday this summer. Contact sports were curtailed when he lost the sight in one eye during a rugby match.

"I used to play football, rugby and sometimes tennis, but now it's running or swimming -- easy things," he told the Daily Mirror last month. "I try to exercise in the mornings, but sometimes it's not so easy when you've got meetings first thing and young children. The treadmill is what you do if you can't run around the town."

US President George W. Bush

Once a heavy drinker, Bush is a reformed character. Unlike former US president Bill Clinton, who jogged occasionally, Bush is fit. He takes a break at about 4.30pm each day for a 60-minute workout. His knees began to give him trouble in 2004 so he tends to run on treadmills rather than outside. He has a bike that hooks on to a stationary trainer and also uses it aboard Air Force One. He says that being fit makes him think more clearly.

On the weekends, he often takes his mountain bike to the extensive secret service grounds at Beltsville, Maryland, where he rides with friends and White House staff, or at his ranch in Texas.

"It brings out the child in you," he said. "I think it's OK ... to still seek that youth, chase that fountain of youth."

The public tends not to be snide about his cycling gear -- shorts, tight vest, helmet, bike shoes, iPod and a US$3,400 Trek bike -- but there is more scepticism about his tendency for brush-cutting, a rugged Texas pastime for anyone with a ranch big enough.

The White House in 2001 published pictures of Bush in cowboy hat and T-shirt lugging around cut branches.

Marlboro Man it was not.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin is probably the nearest thing among international leaders to an action man and his public love him for it.

For a start there is his love affair with judo, which he took up as a child to compensate for a lack of height.

By 18 he was a black belt. These days, he swims -- 1,000m a day in the presidential dacha pool -- and works out for 30 to 40 minutes. He's also a handy skier, testing the slopes to be used for the 2014 winter Olympics, awarded this week to the Russian city of Sochi.

"He's a good skier. I'm not in a position to say just how good," a spokeswoman for Russia's Federal Agency for Mountain Skiing said diplomatically on Friday.

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