Olympics vs. dancing horse: Which one defines Mitt Romney?

The athletic competition Mitt Romney is most closely associated with is the Olympics. But the Romneys have a horse competing in this week's freestyle dressage World Cup finals.

Brian Snyder/REUTERS
Ann Romney (C), wife of Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (2nd R), greets police and their horses after a campaign rally at Montgomery Inn Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio March 3.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, found himself being mocked for, among other things, his love of windsurfing. The sport was used as a metaphor for Senator Kerry's "flip-flopping" in one of the campaign's most devastating ads, which showed Kerry on a board, flipping from one side to the other, as the voiceover listed his seemingly contradictory positions on issues.

Kerry's windsurfing also was portrayed as elitist – and somehow less than all-American – an implication that may have been even more deadly than the flip-flopping. (Of course, the all-American sport President Bush was most closely identified with – baseball – was in his capacity as a former team owner, not a player, which isn't exactly the experience of average Americans, either.)

Wednesday, ABC News took a look at a favorite sport of the Romneys that, in terms of its perceived elitism and foreignness to most Americans, makes windsurfing look like high school football: dressage (even the name is French!). As ABC's Matthew Mosk writes:

"The World Cup finals for the elite sport of dancing horses, known as dressage, opened today in the Netherlands without the presence of two of its most prominent wealthy devotees, Mitt and Ann Romney. The Romneys' horse, Rafalca, will compete, however, performing to music personally selected by the Republican presidential candidate."

The article goes on to explain that the Romneys are the owner and financial sponsor of a horse-and-rider team from California. It also notes that through the years the Romneys have owned or co-owned as many as eight dressage horses.

Granted, it's Ann Romney, not Mitt, who is the real dressage fan. But it seems her husband has supported her passion for the sport in ways beyond just funding it. (According to ABC, the music he chose for the horse's routine is from "The Mission" and "Rainman.") 

Last week, the website Gawker posted a video clip of Romney chatting with Fox News host Sean Hannity with a high degree of detail about the kinds of horses he and his wife own – though the comments themselves were overshadowed by the flurry over the "Fox News mole" who procured the video:

“She has Austrian Warmbloods, which are – yeah, it’s a dressage horse, it’s a kind of horse for the sport that she’s in," Romney said. "Me, I have a Missouri Fox Trotter. So mine is like a quarter horse, but just a much better gait. It moves very fast, and doesn’t tire, and it’s easy to ride, meaning it’s not boom-boom-boom, it’s just smooth, very smooth.”

Presidential candidates don't need to be athletic or even major sports fans. But most of them try to find a sport to latch on to – even if only recreationally or as fans. Everyone knows President Obama plays basketball. Other candidates have made a show of at least jogging on the campaign trail.

Romney has at times joked about his lack of athleticism in high school and college – and the irony of his being chosen to head the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City:

“My oldest son called and said, ‘Dad. I’ve talked to the brothers this morning. We want you to know there’s not a circumstance we could have conceived of that would put you on the front page of the sports section.’" he told a crowd in Palm Beach, Fla., back in 2010. "So my life hasn’t exactly gone as I might have expected.”

For now, the athletic competition Romney is most associated with is the Olympics. His campaign no doubt hopes it stays that way. 

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