Tsar Beefcake takes a holiday


Yes, it’s Russia’s own action man Vladimir Putin enjoying his summer holiday in sunny Tannu Tuva. And, as is his wont, he’s brought along a camera crew to chronicle his swimming, fishing, bare-chested horse-riding and other rugged outdoor pursuits. In so doing, he also reveals why he enjoys pin-up status in Russia – and, though the News 24 report last night contained a fair amount of sniggering, Martine Croxall seemed rather taken with him.

There are echoes, I suppose, of Mao swimming the Yangtse. But then, politicians do like to project an image of themselves as vigorous and robust, often engaging in some desultory physical activity for the benefit of the cameras. (At least, male politicians do. Somehow, I can’t imagine Harriet Harman inviting the viewing public to watch her working out.) US presidents do it a lot. Reagan would pump a little iron now and again to prove that, advanced age notwithstanding, he was still capable; Bush-41 liked to go jogging with his secret service detail, as did Clinton; Barack O’Bama shoots a game of basketball every so often.

The Brits, with their more developed sense of reserve – or maybe sense of the ridiculous is more like it – are less prone to this sort of thing. Mr Tony Blair playing tennis has just about been the height of it. William Hague let it be known that, like Putin, he does a bit of judo, but was sensible enough not to make a big deal of it. The danger is that it just looks a bit like a mid-life crisis (think Kevin Spacey in American Beauty) if you’re not careful.

It’s rather different with Putin. He genuinely is an outdoor sports nut, is fit enough to make it look convincing, and is vain enough to not be self-conscious about the cameras. But of course there’s also the message it sends out. While Russia was being plundered by crooks in the 1990s (what western journalists now coyly call “the democratic experiment”), the occupation of the presidency by a shambling old drunk was emblematic, and a source of shame for many Russians. Putin, from this perspective, is an aspirational figure – as the man who’s restored Russia’s pride, assertiveness and functioning government after the Yeltsin kleptocracy, his personal vigour is clearly calculated to count towards that national self-image.

Like I say, western politicians aren’t quite as keen on this sort of thing, although there’s little reason to believe they wouldn’t do it if they thought they could get away with it. And of course, few could handle it physically. I was just thinking that, given the left’s propensity for personality cults, it’s a pity that so many leftists – and no less at the leadership level – are so patently unhealthy, the product of a cultural of beer, fags, late nights and Pot Noodles. It’s hard to imagine sitting in an audience at Marxism in years past, only to see a bare-chested Tony Cliff stride into the room, roll out a judo mat and start throwing Alex Callinicos over his shoulder. Although I’d have paid good money to see that.

Rud eile: On a connected note, we have Bertie Ahern signing up to write a sports column for the News of the World. One hopes he’s honed his skills since his disastrous turn as a TV football pundit. But why isn’t he specialising as a racing tipster? He should be great at it, since that’s where he made his money.


  1. August 6, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    O-o-oh! You have a fine gallery of breasts to spoil us with, Splinty. Katie the other day, and now this vision of paradise — he’ll always be Vlad the Impaler to me, heh, heh!

  2. hidflect said,

    August 6, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    There’s another angle, of course. Putin doesn’t drink and is trying to be a role model for people to shape up – something for kids to look up to instead of boozing gangsters. The women adore him for trying to encourage their men to get out from behind the bottle and into shape.

  3. Mark P said,

    August 7, 2009 at 3:35 am

    Politicians have to be careful to choose the right sport.

    John Kerry’s prediliction for some unusual and clearly moneyed sport involving a kite and a surfboard didn’t do him any favours despite the fact that he clearly looked the part while doing it. Apparently he also plays ice hockey well and presumably he’d have preferred pictures of that to be all over the papers.

    (A friend of mine was at a wedding where Kerry played ice hockey with the other male guests the day before the ceremony. By his account Kerry was pretty damn good at it, especially considering that he was a lot older than most of the other players.)

  4. Fellow Traveller said,

    August 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Not all leftists model themselves after Hitchens: Lenin lifted weights.

    “The most heroic of these positive heroes was Rakhmetev in Chernyshevky’s dreadful novel WHAT IS TO BE DONE? (1862) This monolithic titan, who was to serve as a model for a whole generation of [Russian] revolutionaries (including Lenin), renounces all the pleasures of life in order to harden his superhuman will and make himself insensible to the human suffering which the coming revolution is bound to create. He is a puritan and an ascetic: on one occasion he even sleeps on a bed of nails in order to stifle his sexual urges. He trains his body by gymnastics and lifting weights. He eats nothing but raw steak.”

    “Lenin, whose own ascetic lifestyle bore a disturbing resemblance to Rakhmetev’s, read the novel five times in one summer. He later acknowledged that it had been crucial in converting him to the revolutionary movement. ‘It completely reshaped me,’ he told Valentinov in 1904. ‘This is a book that changes one for a whole lifetime.’ Chernyshevsky’s importance, in Lenin’s view, was that he had ‘not only showed that every right thinking and really honest man must be a revolutionary, but also – and this is his greatest merit – what a revolutionary must be like.'”

    — A Peoples Tragedy Orlando Figes Pimlico 1997 p 130-131

    Mussolini like to get his shirt off too.

  5. August 7, 2009 at 11:06 am

    he is at least more adventurous during his holidays than former German defence minister Rudolf Scharping: http://pix.sueddeutsche.de/leben/333/303328/image_fmbg_0_8-1216826497.jpg

  6. ejh said,

    August 8, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    He may be the only person I’ve ever seen doing the butterfly stroke when they didn’t have to.

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