Blake Leeper

Paralympic medalist Blake Leeper surprised by idol Bo Jackson on ‘Arsenio’ (video)

2 Comments

Bo knows Blake.

Blake Leeper, a two-time Paralympic medalist sprinter in prosthetic legs since he was nine months old, was a guest on “Arsenio” on Monday.

Leeper talked about his much-reported goal to run in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but that wasn’t the only reason for his appearance.

Arsenio Hall didn’t waste any time, asking Leeper, 24, about his favorite athlete as a kid.

“My guy growing up, of course, was Bo Jackson,” he said. “I was a huge Bo fan before his injury. I watched Bo, everything he did. Remember, he got hurt, his football accident. He came back with a prosthetic hip and was able to battle back his whole life, come back and compete.”

Jackson suffered a football career-ending hip injury in a January 1991 NFL playoff game with the Oakland Raiders. Leeper was 1 year old.

Jackson persevered and continued to play baseball with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels.

“As a child, seeing him, with his prosthetic hip, even though I had prosthetic legs, I just heard, ‘prosthetics,'” Leeper said. “I was really excited, and I related myself. Everywhere I would go, ‘Call me Bo. Call me Bo.'”

Hall then asked Leeper about his start in sprinting and called on somebody to bring out a pair of Leeper’s race legs.

That somebody was Jackson. Leeper’s reaction in the video below was priceless. The two champion athletes shared a 16-second hug.

“I’m speechless right now,” Leeper said, sitting next to Jackson. “This is the first time I’ve been able to actually say this. Twenty years ago, the day that I met you was truly amazing for me. I want to say thank you for never giving up on your career. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today. You inspired me to be who I am today. You inspired me to go out there and show the world that regardless of who you are, regardless of if you have a disability, it doesn’t matter. As long as you battle back, and you give it your 120 percent, you can overcome any challenge. And I thank you for that, Bo, I appreciate it.”

Jackson was appreciative as well.

“My analogy is God puts speedbumps in everybody’s road to life,” Jackson said. “It’s up to us to slow down, get over that speedbump and move on down the road.

“It’s almost like me sitting here and watching my own son. I am just that proud of him”

(h/t @forthewin)

Usain Bolt also goes on Arsenio Hall show

Ashley Wagner handed Puffs box in emotional press conference (video)

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner was on the verge of tears (of joy) after taking silver at the U.S. Championships. A U.S. Figure Skating official came to her aid during a press conference, passing a box of Puffs onto the table.

A reporter told Wagner, 25, that it’s believed she’s the oldest U.S. women’s podium finisher since at least World War II. Wagner, not much of a fan of age remarks, smiled.

“Oh my god, you had to mention a World War,” she said. “I’m getting emotional, just because this is so hard, what I do, and I am so proud that I am still here today because I was 15 or 16 at my first world championships [16, in 2008], and I’m here, and I’m 25, it’s almost 10 years later. That’s something that you just don’t see in this sport. I’m here because I love it, and I am so stubborn.”

At that point, the green box of Puffs, one of U.S. Figure Skating’s sponsors, appeared to Wagner’s right.

“My passion is what fuels me,” she continued, “and I’m really proud of myself. I hope one day people will look back. I’m always here because I work to be here, and that’s something that I’m really proud of.”

MORE: Gracie Gold comments after sixth-place finish

Karen Chen holds off Ashley Wagner for shocking U.S. title

1 Comment

KANSAS CITY — Karen Chen was as surprised as anyone that she won the U.S. title.

“I’m just in complete shock,” said Chen, who was eighth last year. “It was hard for me to believe that this day would come.”

Chen, 17, overcame nearly two seasons’ worth of struggles to win her first national championship Saturday night. She posted the highest short-program and free-skate scores and topped a field that included three Olympians.

Most notably Ashley Wagner, who finished second, 2.44 points behind. Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist, just missed becoming the oldest women’s gold medalist in 90 years.

Wagner didn’t seem to mind her first U.S. silver medal, though, because she’s surely going to be on the three-woman world championships team named Sunday.

“This is perfect for me,” said Wagner, who came into the week as the clear favorite. “It gives me the opportunity to go in [to the world championships] with my head down and keep on working. I know where I lost my points. … I’m not planning on peaking here.”

Mariah Bell, who shares a coach with Wagner, jumped from sixth after the short program to finish third and likely lock down the last worlds spot. Full results are here.

Gracie Gold, who finished fourth at the Olympics and the last two worlds, tumbled to sixth place and is likely to miss worlds for the first time in her five-year senior career. Gold reflected on her disastrous season afterward.

It was also a heartbreaking day for 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu, who fell from second after the short program to finish fourth, 3.02 behind Bell.

Nagasu had four of her jumps called under-rotated in her free skate. Nagasu was heartbreakingly left off the 2014 Olympic team. It looks like she finished one spot shy of making the worlds team, which is chosen by a committee.

“I am speechless,” Nagasu said. “I knew I was ready, and I just didn’t deliver tonight. … This isn’t the way I wanted it to go, but I think that people are defined by how they react to things.”

Like Chen. The Fremont, Calif., native burst onto the scene two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold at age 15.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little had been heard about Chen since (though plenty has been from U.S. men’s leader Nathan Chen, also 17 years old but unrelated).

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

But Chen felt plenty comfortable Thursday, performing a rare clean program for the lead.

“I skated the short of my dreams,” Chen said. “I wanted to follow it up with a close to perfect long.”

It was pretty darn close. Chen landed all of her jumps clean, including seven triples.

“This moment was something that I really dreamed about,” Chen said. “It was far from reality.”

Wagner will likely be leading a world championships team with two rookies in Chen and Bell.

It’s the most pressure-packed worlds of the four-year cycle, because the skaters’ placements determine how many Olympic spots each nation receives.

To ensure the maximum three spots at the Olympics, the top two U.S. finishers at worlds must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh, for example).

Japan and Russia will send three skaters each with the talent to finish in the top five. Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond is also a medal threat. Wagner, sitting next to Chen and Bell, stressed that they should “tune out the noise” going into the biggest competition of their careers.

“It is so easy to be devoured by you guys because you all have eaten me alive before,” Wagner, who made her worlds debut in 2008, told the media. “Karen just has to deliver what she did here, Mariah has to do the same thing, and we’ll be set.”

Earlier Saturday, Maia and Alex Shibutani were beaten in the free dance but held on to repeat as U.S. championsHaven Denney and Brandon Frazier were the best of a flawed pairs field to earn their first U.S. title.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Nathan Chen, 17, is in position to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion in 51 years.

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14