This Time, We Have A Winner

George W. Bush isn't known as a details guy, but when it comes to exercise he's a micromanager. For the presidential fitness challenge last weekend, Bush not only chose the course for the three-mile run at Fort McNair in Washington, but he also picked out the T shirt design and even the color. Allowing no room for error, he insisted that every racer wear a state-of-the-art ChampionChip--the same timing device used in the Boston and New York marathons. The only thing Bush left in doubt was whether the 250-plus staffers competing against him were allowed to beat the Runner-in-Chief. "I'm still trying to get a fill on that," said press aide Brian Bravo, 21, a few days before the race. Bravo runs the mile in under six minutes--about a minute faster than the boss. When one aide tried to clarify the rules, Bush said, "Every runner should run their pace." Then he winked.

For weeks Bush had been trying to psyche out the competition: feigning injury, complaining about his heel or his knee. Meanwhile he'd been quietly training hard. Most Sundays he tackles Big Bertha--the last quarter mile of a Camp David trail that goes straight uphill. He saves his longest runs for his Texas ranch. Those who can keep pace with him in the Crawford heat get a personally designed certificate initiating them into the "Hundred Degree Club." So far it's been mostly Secret Service agents who have made the cut. As his constant running companions, they not only have to keep up, but they have to keep their distance. Bush doesn't like anyone encroaching on his running space.

Now Bush has sparked a White House fitness craze. It was his idea to put a gym in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House. (Exercise is one of the best excuses for being out of the office in the middle of the workday at the West Wing--though the gym does have a phone.) Bush's aides, in turn, always try to schedule a few hours for a presidential workout, even on the road. "I'm a lot more pleasant fellow to be around after I exercise," Bush admitted last week. Some staffers say his example is hard to match. Bush is in the top two percentile in cardiovascular fitness for his age, according to his last physical. He doesn't drink or smoke and he's tried to cut down on the chicken-fried steak, losing more than 15 pounds this year. That didn't stop Philip Mattson from the White House Correspondence Office from taking Bush at his word and running the three miles in 17:12 to win. The president, who came in 26th place at 20:29, studied all the split times during the motorcade home.