Paralympic medalist and double amputee Blake Leeper shattered his 400m personal best, clocking a time on Monday that would have made every U.S. Olympic team.
Leeper beat a field of able-bodied athletes, including three-time world indoor 400m champion Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic, at a meet in Prague in 44.42.
Leeper lowered his personal best of 45.05 from April 21. Video of the race is here, with Leeper getting off to a slow start (due to the prosthetics) and zooming past the entire field between 100 meters and 300 meters.
Leeper’s time on Monday would have placed second at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and made each of the last five Olympic teams in the 400m and every Olympic team if you include the 4x400m relay.
Leeper, 28, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 400m this year. The USATF Outdoor Championships are in two weeks, though there are no world outdoor championships to qualify for this year.
Leeper is believed to be the only double amputee to race at a USATF Outdoors, reaching the 400m semifinals last year and clocking a then-personal-best 45.25 to take Oscar Pistorius off the IPC record books. Leeper raced at that meet for the first time since the end of a cocaine ban.
He was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. Leeper earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics and has long harbored a goal of racing at the Olympics.
“I can remember back in 2008, when I was in my college dorm room [pre-med at the University of Tennessee], never run a track meet in my life, seeing [Pistorius] run for the first time,” Leeper said. “That inspired me.”
Leeper could become the second double amputee to run at the world championships in 2019 or Olympics in 2020, following Pistorius, who made the semifinals at the 2011 Worlds and the 2012 Olympics. Pistorius is serving a 13-year prison sentence for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Leeper’s time on Monday does not count as a world record in his T43 classification, however.
“From 1 Janaury this year, World Para Athletics introduced a new formula regrading the maximum allowable standing height (MASH) of each athlete with double leg amputations (above knee and below knee),” an IPC spokesperson said in an email. “As far as we are aware, Blake has yet to be classified under this new MASH formula and is therefore running on a blade length that is currently invalid. In most cases, the new formula is reducing the blade length of most double leg amputations.”
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