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Fit to Lead

Voters have had plenty of opportunities to gather information and pass judgment on President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. Most, however, are unsatisfying -- staged debates, advertising swill, convention hoo-ha, editorial folderol. It makes you wonder: Is there really a way to measure the cut of a man's character when it comes time to cast a ballot?

You bet. The answer, of course, is sports. So ditch that crinkled copy of endorsements from the News or the Post. All you need on November 2 is this handy clip-'n'-save sports voter's guide.

IN THE AIR

Facts: President Bush, a trained F-102 fighter pilot from his lost days in the Texas National Guard, famously helped land a Navy S-3B Viking on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. His declaration that the war in Iraq was a "mission accomplished" turned out to be slightly premature, yet it was still an impressive feat of airmanship; even top guns get knots in their stomachs landing on a short tarmac bobbing in the ocean.

Unknown to many, however, Senator Kerry also holds a pilot's license, which he obtained in 1966. He became a stunt flier while at Yale, and he is commercially licensed and can pilot seaplanes and gliders.

Analysis: Bush prefers force and firepower to finesse, Kerry the opposite. Flying military jets gets the job done; loop-de-loops in a prop plane suggest a preference for maneuvering.

IN THE WATER

Facts: This is not where the president is most comfortable. Kerry, who is hanging his bid for the Oval Office on his captaining of a small boat four decades ago, is a fanatical windsurfer. More recently the senator took up kite-boarding. He has also proven himself adept on frozen water, earning a reputation as a fearless checker when playing hockey in prep school and college.

There is no evidence that George Bush likes playing in the water.

Analysis: Kerry is a constant seeker -- in this case, for kicks, wherever they might be. He is careful, however, to distinguish between adrenaline highs and danger. "I think the things I do are things where if you're thoughtful and disciplined, I'm in control," he told the Boston Globe in 2003. The senator's wide range of interest shows versatility. Bush, by comparison, prefers to stick with what he knows: terra firma. His comfort zone is narrower.

ON LAND

Facts: Kerry played lacrosse, soccer and hockey at Yale; he lists his greatest athletic achievement as scoring a hat trick in his senior-year game against Harvard. Bush was the self-proclaimed "high commissioner of stickball" at his prep school, Andover. He played a bit of baseball, rugby and touch football, too.

Today both candidates ride bicycles, although Bush is more interested in mountain biking (on a $3,000 carbon-fiber Trek) and Kerry prefers long road rides; he's ridden several centuries on his $8,000 Serotta. Bush is the more serious runner, having started jogging in 1972. His best marathon time, 3:44:52, is impressive, and his best 10K time averaged seven-minute miles. Kerry claims to have run the Boston Marathon, but there is no official record of it. He likes an impromptu football toss, skiing and snowboarding.

Analysis: Bush is a linear sports man: When he starts an activity, it is with the goal of single-mindedly grinding from Point A to Point B; you finish what you start. Kerry is more interested in games and activities that feature changing situations, forcing him to adapt to the shifting terrain.

THE MANLY ARTS

Facts: Both men characterize themselves as serious hunters and fishermen. Kerry was photographed last year in Iowa bagging two pheasants with two shots. Thirty-five years ago, the senator killed the enemy as a soldier in Vietnam; he reportedly keeps a Chinese assault rifle in his office as a reminder of his war days. Kerry's biography also claims that he ran with the bulls in Pamplona.

Bush has personally toppled two despotic regimes. The president hunts quail -- although, as he told Field & Stream, "I'm not a very good shot. I'd be the first to admit it."

Analysis: Bush seems more comfortable with guns than his opponent does, although Kerry is more likely to hit what he's aiming at. Kerry prefers salt-water angling in his beloved ocean; Bush is happier angling for bass in fresh water. This indicates that the senator is more an internationalist. The president, by comparison, sees no reason to stray outside the country's boundaries; all the good things in life are right here.

OVERALL CONDITIONING

Facts: The most recent Runner's World magazine calculates that Bush, at 6', 190 pounds, has a body-mass index of 25.8. He supposedly can bench-press over 200 pounds, and his workouts are an important and regular part of his life; he even installed a treadmill on Air Force One. When asked by Runner's World a couple of years back (he made the cover) what he would say to people who claim they haven't sufficient time to exercise, Bush answered, "I say they don't have their priorities straight." The president's resting heart rate is said to hover around 45.

At 6'4", 180 pounds, Kerry has a BMI of 21.9. The senator's medical records don't identify his heart rate. A physically restless person, he doesn't "work out" so much as constantly pursue physical entertainment and energy release.

Analysis: Both men are in superb condition for their ages (Bush, 58; Kerry, 60). A low resting heart rate is nice to have in stressful situations such as directing an overseas invasion. But a lower body-mass index predicts greater longevity and a generally healthier lifestyle -- good role-modeling for a comprehensive and affordable prevention-based health-care system available to everyone.

THE FAN

Facts: Kerry has made several unforgivable sports-related errors in recent months. He referred to Lambeau Field, legendary home turf of the Green Bay Packers, as "Lambert" Field. He also lauded the Ohio Buckeyes while campaigning in Michigan. And he once revealed his favorite Boston Red Sox player to be Eddie Yost -- a man who never played for the team.

Bush used to own a 2 percent stake in the Texas Rangers. He also has acknowledged that, while he doesn't really read much of the newspaper, he does dig into the sports section every day. In school he was known more as an organizer and cheerleader than a stellar athlete -- the classic fan profile, although he does not, technically, drink beer anymore.

Analysis: Kerry is more the participatory type, reflecting his genteel roots. (A legitimate sweat on the playing fields is jolly good sport; slobbering on pre-game brats in the parking lot is something others do.) The generous tax breaks Bush enjoyed as part owner of the Rangers seem to have informed his political philosophy: Tax relief for the owners helped the team thrive. Baseball is America's sport; thus, cutting taxes for the wealthy helps America.

GLITCHES

Facts: Kerry had his prostate removed after doctors discovered cancer on it. He has also undergone elective shoulder surgery for a small muscle tear. Bush has had four non-cancerous skin lesions removed, and persistent knee problems have forced him to cut back on his running.

The president has wiped out several times while mountain biking, most recently on his Texas ranch in July. He scraped his face and knees but got up and kept riding. Kerry fell off his road bike while pedaling outside of Boston in May. He was not hurt, though he didn't continue his ride. This spring, while snowboarding, the senator collided with a Secret Service agent.

Analysis: Bush views falls and spills as unavoidable, hence his reluctance to acknowledge any failure. A wipeout is not a "mistake," but rather a natural consequence of action. Kerry is more insecure about being perceived as weak. When he was asked about his crash with the agent on the slopes, he answered tersely, "I don't fall down," then blamed the agent for the mishap.

VICE PRESIDENTIAL BONUS POINTS

Facts: An avid runner, John Edwards has finished five marathons. Dick Cheney loves nothing more than to cap his limit of ducks.

Analysis: Edwards is in top physical condition. Cheney has had four heart attacks and shouldn't walk to the refrigerator without a charged defibrillator in the room. Is it any surprise that one supports big pharmaceutical companies while the other sues them?


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