- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Hey, it could have been worse for Paul Ryan. He could have tried to pass himself off as Jim Ryun, just to see if anybody was paying attention. So give him credit for exercising some restraint. All he did was exaggerate how fast he ran a marathon — by over an hour. He didn’t say, “I would have won the gold in the 1,500 meters at the ‘68 Olympics if I hadn’t been recovering from mono.”

Of course, what he did say was dubious enough. In a radio interview he claimed to have completed the 26-mile, 385-yard distance in “under three [hours], high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something. I was fast when I was younger.” Maybe so, but not that fast — unless he hopped on a subway with Rosie Ruiz. It turns out he posted a time of 4:01:25 in the only marathon he finished (in Duluth, Minn., in 1990, when he was 20). This put him just behind 42-year-old Cathy Simpson of Eden Prairie, not that anyone’s counting.

Anyway, the Republican candidate for vice president has recanted, and life goes on. The slip-up is hardly expected to tip the balance of the election, though Ryan might lose a few votes with the Runner’s World crowd. But it’s never a good idea, in this day and age, to overstate your athletic accomplishments. It’s too easy to be caught — even running a marathon with so many entrants that the results look like the Manhattan phone book.

Still, the temptation is great, sports being such an obsession in this country. Indeed, on the macho scale, athletic prowess might be the next best thing to military service. I mean, look at our last presidential year, 2008. Granted, ducking sniper fire isn’t an Olympic event, but didn’t Hillary Clinton say she’d done that once upon arriving in Bosnia? And wasn’t a video dug up to prove her oh so wrong? You’d think these folks — folks seeking the highest offices in the land — would know better.

This silliness isn’t just limited to the U.S., either. Or do I have to bring up the late Kim Jong-il, the Tiger Woods of North Korea, who in his first attempt at golf supposedly fired a 38, including 11 holes-in-one. Fortunately for Kim, ESPN’s Outside the Lines crew couldn’t get visas to investigate — shot by shot, club by club — his Round for the Ages. (You have to figure that, somewhere in there, he at least tried to improve his lie.)

Then there’s the current dust-up between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and California Gov. Jerry Brown. At the Republican convention, you may have heard, Christie said the Golden State “made a bad choice by going with an old retread.” This prompted Brown to shoot back: “There’s nothing wrong with being a little retread. But I have to tell you, I ran three miles in 29 minutes two nights ago. And I hereby challenge Gov. Christie to a three-mile race, a pushup contest and a chin-up contest. Whatever he wants to bet, I have no doubt of the outcome.”

The beauty of the three-miles-in-29-minutes boast is that Brown wasn’t competing in a road race, complete with timers, so there’s no way to verify it. If he’d been participating in, say, a 5K fun run, it might be a different story. But beyond that, it’s a classic example of the way politicians like to wear their jockdom on their sleeves (unless, that is, they prefer a sleeveless muscle shirt).

In the two months between now and Election Day, the candidates would be wise to be on their best behavior. That means no fudging of athletic feats — except maybe those that were confined to the backyard. Take President Obama, for instance. It would probably hurt his chances for a second term if he said, “I played on the Chaminade team that shocked Ralph Sampson and No. 1 Virginia in Honolulu in 1982.” It might even cause him to lose his home state. (Possible alternative: “I once scrimmaged with some of those guys from Chaminade.”)

As for his opponent, Mitt Romney happens to be named after a cousin, Milton “Mitt” Romney, who played quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the 1920s. Cousin Milt even played briefly with Red Grange — and played with and under George Halas. But he never won an NFL championship (though he came close in 1926), never made All-Pro and never threw a touchdown pass to the “Galloping Ghost” (in an actual game, anyway). Just thought I’d put that out on the table. Consider yourself warned.