Blake Leeper, a double amputee who finished fifth in the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships 400m, had his prosthetic legs ruled ineligible for major international able-bodied competition such as the Olympics.
World Athletics made the ruling as part of a months-long case that will go on. Leeper confirmed Thursday morning a Washington Post report that he is appealing.
A World Athletics review group “concluded that Mr. Leeper had not established that his prostheses do not provide him with an overall competitive advantage,” according to a World Athletics statement. “Under the current rule [introduced in 2015], the burden of proof lies with the athlete to show that prostheses do not provide them with an overall competitive advantage.”
Leeper, a 2012 Paralympic medalist, sprints fast enough to be a contender for the U.S. Olympic team, should he be deemed eligible. A fifth-place finisher in the 400m at nationals usually makes an Olympic or world team for the 4x400m relay.
But when Leeper recorded that finish in Des Moines last summer, he was running under conditional allowance while his World Athletics case was ongoing. He was not ultimately selected to race at worlds last fall.
World Athletics said then that his nationals results would not be ratified because he had not proven that his legs did not provide “an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.”
Leeper’s case is reminiscent of South African Oscar Pistorius.
Pistorius won a legal battle to race on his prosthetics at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics in the 400m with a personal best of 45.07. He was eliminated in the semifinals at both meets.
Leeper lowered his personal best to 44.38 seconds at nationals, a time that would have easily made the 2016 Olympic team.
“They keep changing the rules,” Leeper, who has been coached by, among others, Super Bowl champion wide receiver Willie Gault, said last summer. “For somebody to try to dictate and tell me how tall I should be or whatever I should be running on I think is just really unfair.”
In 2018, the International Paralympic Committee said Leeper was running on invalid blades for its record purposes because he had yet to be classified under a new maximum allowable standing height (MASH) formula.
Michael Norman, the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year, said he had no issue racing with Leeper. But others in the past, when Pistorius became the first double amputee to race at worlds and the Olympics, said they wouldn’t have been so sure had Pistorius been running the kind of times that Leeper posted in recent years.
“Walk a mile in my legs,” Leeper said of those who believe he has a competitive advantage. “Understand the things that I go through as a double-leg amputee. There’s some days my legs are swollen, they’re sore, they’re bleeding, they’re bruised. I can’t even have the strength to put ’em on to walk to the bathroom.
“Anybody that faces a disability, to actually look them in the face and say they have an advantage is just crazy to me. I guarantee if that’s the case, you’ll see a lot more people amputating their legs and coming and trying to qualify for the U.S. trials.”
Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. He earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics, then served a cocaine ban.
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