Claude Pepper, who turned 81 this week, got a medal last night along with two dozen others, for contributions to the general cause of physical fitness, especially among those old enough to have some sense (no longer young, in other words) so it was presumed he would give a demonstration of weight lifting.

Buster Crabbe, after all (introduced as 114 years of age and as the father of Johnny Weismuller, though both those are vulgar errors; he is not related to Weismuller and is only 73) had earlier demonstrated the art of swimming, in the Shoreham Hotel pool.

Pepper, who has been governor of Florida, senator, and now representative, contented himself with cutting a vast pastry like a wedding cake for Brunhilde.

There is a time for toting bales. There is a time for cutting cakes.

"Must be a fitness cake," said a man who was just looking for an excuse and who had already eaten too much as indeed his paunch proved.

George Allen, former coach of the Washington pro football team, the Redskins, and who appears to rank somewhat above Zeus in the local pantheon, was seen in an anteroom before the world at large descended on him after the dinner, and his advice was sought for "getting back in shape" if one happened to be approaching middle age, between 45 and 60.

"I run an hour a day," he said. "Ran this afternoon in Rock Creek Park. The main thing is to do it, whether it's running or tennis or swimming or whatever it is, regularly. Four or five times a week. It's the regularity of it that's important."

Looking elsewhere for an authority who perhaps knew some first-rate breathing or meditational exercises requiring 10 minutes twice a month, you might well have run into Stan the Man Musial, a baseball great of near-saint stature and once (if it doesn't break the spell) fitness consultant for the president when Lyndon Johnson ruled the White House. Musial, described in the introduction as the greatest gentleman ever to play the major leagues, would not make you sweat an hour a day like Allen, you would think.

"A regular schedule," he said. "For me, it's swimming. I can still hit a ball," he said. Leaving it at swimming, you could turn where you wished but you always got the same answer. A tall handsome woman said aerobic dancing might help, if one were not into bounding through Rock Creek. Only takes an hour a day, she said.

James Lovell, the former astronaut, conspicuously passed up the fried butterfly shrimp at a reception before supper. Dammnn his eyes.

The President's Council on Physical Fitness was established by President Dwight Eisenhower, and a fitness dinner last night marked its 25th anniversary.

Nice modest little onion soup, scallops and shrimp, filet of beef, muscle-building vegetable and palm salad, topped off with the fitness cake and Sanka (Sanka and General Foods paid for this feast) was the proper fodder for the lean tough hard flat-bellied life, so one forced oneself to down it. Must begin somewhere.

Among the jocks honored for their contributions to what was called the "fitness renaissance," either by example or by organizing programs, or by fathering legislation or other good things, were Deena Clark, Eunice Shriver, Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.), Jack LaLanne (whose wife said he is working on a forthcoming syndicated television show that deals not only with exercise but with food since he is a divine cook, she said), Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) cited, like all the others, as an inspiration to us all.

Several hundred guests applauded madly, no matter who was introduced, and among the fittest was Buffy Cafritz, who smiled and did not try to make anybody run 42 times around the White House and who smoked cigarettes, and Sally Nevius (her husband, John, a past chairman of the D.C. City Council) who said she broke her little toe by stumbling over her husband's briefcase when she arose at 5 a.m. to view Prince Charles' and Lady Diana's marriage on her television set while her husband slept. In considerable pain she sat there watching the carriages roll by, then later had X-rays and all the rest of it:

But like the noblest sort of athlete she ran her race, as it were, and finished the course and only then attended to her body's pain.

Msgr. Raymond Boland had offered an extended prayer before the feast in which he spoke at some length of such human shortcomings as eating too much and not exercising enough and invoked divine grace and help for those who will "diet tomorrow." One of the few prayers at banquets interrupted by laughter, it is believed.

Rudy Vallee, singer of yesteryear, was introduced and got an ovation. Only man ever to sing "My Time Is Your Time," while running a 3:50 mile.