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Only Barack Obama would bring a SWAT team with him to the gym

No one is allowed near US President Barack Obama when he visits a downtown Los Angeles gym for a workout.


‘Go on – who is it?” I asked the workmen stapling thick black plastic over the windows of the hotel gym to which I belong. In a town where, on any given day, you can find yourself on the treadmill beside Woody Allen (in brogues), Kenneth Branagh doing lunges or Mike Tyson grunting his way through a set of bench presses, who is important enough to demand total privacy for their workout?

A stroll down the street told me what they wouldn’t. A 40‑strong motorcade comprised of blacked-out SUVs, Cadillacs and two armoured limousines was parked outside the building. SWAT teams lined the rooftops – their black balaclavas just visible in the sunlight – and above, a Vietnam-style helicopter presence was starting up. President Obama had come to stay.

Now, Obama’s strict fitness regime is well documented. He once told Men’s Health magazine: “There’s always a trade-off between sleep and working out. Usually I get in about 45 minutes, six days a week – I wish I were getting a 90-minute workout.” But this was impressive, even for him. In LA for just 12 hours on a fundraising trip, the President was still planning to squeeze in a workout. But when?

“Oh, he makes it down to the gym whenever he stops over,” one Spandex-clad regular told me. “After he’s gone, we’re always looking for traces of presidential sweat on the gear, but you never actually get to see him because he either trains at 10.30 at night or around five in the morning.” Which, we all agreed, either confirms the President’s dedication – or makes him a grunter of the most anti-social sort.

“It’s a better time to be a pizza man than the US president right now,” one TV pundit recently surmised. “At least a pizza man might see some dough rise over the next year.”

Chris Christie – the New Jersey governor who has vehemently ruled himself out of the race in the past – might once have believed the same. This week, however, it looked like he could crack, in the face of renewed pressure to stand from across the Republican party.

There’s a problem, though. Christie is a large man – large enough to inspire talk-show host David Letterman to feature a Top Ten list of reasons Christie could never get into the White House. They include: “He’d have to hire a Secretary of Cake”, “Taxpayers would have to pay for the President’s second seat on Air Force One” and “The new national anthem would have to be the Chili’s Baby Back Ribs song”.

A producer friend puts it more brutally: “Christie’s eloquent, clever and likeable, but weight is too much of an issue in the US – too much of an Achilles heel. America was ready for a black president, but it’s not ready for a fat president.” There’s always another barrier to break down.


Forget Russian villains with white cats and British megalomaniacs. There’s a new bad guy in town: the microscopic virus. These little anti-heroes – mutating gayly in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, and taking centre-screen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes – are smaller than even Tom Cruise, able to reproduce beautifully on screen (with a disdain for anti-nudity clauses matched only by Kate Winslet) – and they’ve got germ-phobic US audiences squirming in their seats.

“She’s gone, dude!” someone shouted from the recesses of the cinema as Gwyneth Paltrow went into some Oscar-grade seizures on her kitchen floor in Contagion. “It’s coming to get you!” announced another spectator with grim relish as the mass graves started to pile up (cinemagoing in LA, I should explain, is as interactive an experience as a live wrestling match).

Popular as scantily clad zombies are, having finally found a rational fear to tap into, Hollywood isn’t about to let this one go.

Filed in: World News

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