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Double amputee runs 400m time that would have made U.S. Olympic team

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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.”

MORE: Ato Boldon recalls Usain Bolt’s first world record on 10th anniversary

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Kristoffersen topples Hirscher to win giant slalom at worlds

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ARE, Sweden — Norwegian skiing is in safe hands, even with its beloved king now in retirement.

Henrik Kristoffersen gave Norway its second individual gold medal of the world championships by toppling an under-the-weather Marcel Hirscher to win the giant slalom on Friday.

With Kjetil Jansrud also victorious in the downhill last week, Norway appears in great shape heading into the post-Aksel Lund Svindal era.

Svindal signed off his illustrious career with a silver medal behind Jansrud in the downhill, and said he was leaving behind a strong generation of Norwegian skiing talent.

Kristoffersen is at the forefront of that — especially now that he has ended his long wait for a medal at a world championship.

The 24-year-old Kristoffersen had finished fourth in his last three races at the worlds — the giant slalom and slalom in 2017 and the slalom in 2015 — and headed into his second run of the GS in third place behind leader Alexis Pinturault and Hirscher, the favorite and one of skiing’s all-time greats.

However, Kristoffersen produced an aggressive run under the lights, his speed and flow particularly apparent in the bottom section, to win by 0.20 seconds over Hirscher. Pinturault won the bronze medal, 0.42 seconds back.

“It was about time to get a medal,” said Kristoffersen, who wasn’t necessarily expecting it to come in GS.

Kristoffersen’s last win in the discipline came at Meribel in 2015 and he has been consistently behind Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup winner and defending Olympic and world GS champion. He finished second to Hirscher at last year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Kristoffersen was without a win in any discipline for a year but said he gained confidence from the course being doused with salt to maintain the snow surface amid unseasonably warm weather. The temperature in Are for the first leg was 8 C (46 F).

“There’s no one that skis on salt as much as Norwegians do,” he said. “Even though I haven’t trained on salt in GS in a long, long time, I have it from childhood.”

Hirscher’s preparations for the race were affected by a bout of flu that kept him in bed for much of the past two days. He acknowledged after the race that the likelihood of him lining up on the starting gate wasn’t high on Thursday.

“Normally,” Hirscher said, “if you have regular work on those days, you normally tell your boss I’m done for the day.”

Yet he managed to be only 0.10 seconds behind Pinturault after an error-free first run, keeping Hirscher on course for a record-tying seventh gold medal at the worlds. But he went wide at two gates in the top section of his second run, causing him to lose 0.41 seconds on Kristoffersen in the middle section.

“Second place is the first loser but Henrik had an amazing day with two great runs,” Hirscher said. “Henrik is at the top for such a long time. He was more than ready for a world title.”

Hirscher, who was noticeably sniffing after the race, added that he was “looking forward to getting back to bed again” to rest up ahead of Sunday’s slalom.

When Pinturault crossed the finish line in third place, Kristoffersen clenched his fists before walking into the finish area, crouching on one knee and acknowledging the jubilant Norwegian fans in the grandstand.

For Pinturault, it was his second medal of the championships after winning the Alpine combined on Monday.

Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.