independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Gerard O'Regan: Kenny and Putin both fit as fiddles, but our man's more toned down

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is known for his cycling prowess
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is known for his cycling prowess

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not known for paying too much attention to her physical appearance -- but she has always been adept at achieving a certain level of physical fitness.

Swimming and skiing seem to be her particular enthusiasms.

However, following a skiing accident -- she fractured her pelvis on a cross-country run -- she is hobbling about with the aid of crutches.

Her advisers assure us that her steely work ethic will remain at full throttle. She will still be keeping a close eye on the ship of state, although she has had to cancel a number of foreign engagements.

However, evidence would suggest she is not in the same fitness league as two other European leaders whose political image is in no small way helped by an appearance and aura which belies their respective years.

Our own Enda Kenny, still a youthful looking 62 year old, and Russia's Vladimir Putin, an equally sprightly 61 year old, as they say, certainly don't look their age.

There is no doubt that in an image-conscious, youth-obsessed world, a fit and healthy demeanour is an important asset when cultivating a public political persona.

It may be significant that Kenny and Putin hold down the top political jobs in countries where a booze culture -- with all its debilitating effects on physical appearance -- blighted the political careers of some of those who had held similar posts in the past.

Back in 1994 one of of Putin's illustrious predecessors, Boris Yeltsin, kept Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and some of his ministers waiting for over an hour on the tarmac at Shannon Airport. It later emerged he was too drunk to leave his Aeroflot plane.

In 2009, on a visit to the US, Yeltsin was found wandering outside the White House in his underpants trying to hail a taxi. He wanted to go and buy a pizza. Needless to say he was once again severely under the weather.

Vladimir will certainly never be guilty of such antics. Only a few days ago he made sure he was pictured playing ice hockey, in what many observers say is the latest manifestation of his "action man" public image.

Ice hockey is not a sport for the faint-hearted and pictures in the Russian and foreign media made it all the sweeter from Vlad's viewpoint, given that his team won what was labelled an "all-star game".

He regularly publicly shows off his undoubted physical attributes by taking part in judo, karate, swimming, and horse-riding events. It seems a particular favourite of his is sambo, a fairly grim Russian form of martial arts.

Kenny for his part is not in the same league for such competitive activities. However, we have been treated to some public displays of his own brand of physical prowess, such as pedalling up some sharp inclines in the annual Ring of Kerry cycle event.

He has also successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in the heart of Africa and has made it to the top of Croagh Patrick at least 100 times, and counting.

He also differs from Putin in that we are not provided with an ongoing supply of shirtless pictures where we can judge for ourselves just how really toned he may be. The Russian leader has appeared in various newspapers, magazines and websites where those so inclined can observe him from the navel upwards.

The current Russian president is certainly not shy about displaying a finely toned midriff which many a younger man can only dream about. Some websites famously feature a topless picture of him riding a horse like a tribal chieftain of old, displaying his muscle power for all to see.

The machismo, and even aggression, displayed in these very public displays of physical prowess, reflect the tough-guy mentality of this Russian leader.

He is absolutely determined to restore his country to the status of what he believes should be that of a frontline superpower

With this in mind, like many others who have guided the fortunes of the Soviet empire, he remains obsessed with those countries that border the vast Russian landmass. These areas have traditionally been referred to in Moscow as "the near abroad".

They are seen as buffer states which have helped protect the motherland from invasion and attack through the centuries. It is a mindset strongly shared by Putin. It is, for example, the main reason why he wants the neighbouring and very unsettled Ukraine to remain in the Russian sphere, rather than embrace the EU as many of its citizens would like.

As of now this keep-fit fanatic seems safe in his citadel of power, and given the radiant good health he exudes, Putin is likely to remain a powerful figure on the world stage for some time.

As for Enda, no doubt he will continue his biking and kindred activities on the roadways and hillsides of Mayo and Kerry.

But understandably he will do his thing in a more Irish kind of way than is the case with the bossman in the Kremlin.

Irish Independent

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