Blake Leeper hopes to race at worlds as double amputee

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DES MOINES — Blake Leeper, a Paralympic medalist and double amputee, finished fifth in the 400m at the USATF Outdoor Championships on Saturday. Normally, that would put a runner on the world championships team for the 4x400m relay.

But Leeper, who hopes to be the second double amputee to race at worlds after Oscar Pistorius, is in a legal battle with the IAAF regarding the eligibility of his prosthetic legs.

He was allowed to run conditionally at USATF Outdoors for a second time in three years. USATF gave him a card inviting him to team processing after Saturday’s final, but a spokesperson said it awaits the result of his IAAF case.

“It’s out of my control. I put the work in, the rest is up to the rest of the world,” Leeper said. “I do encourage everybody that is following my story, that do support me, to go out there and voice their opinion and push the barriers a little bit in my support so, hopefully, the tides could turn in my favor and I could compete in the world championships.”

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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 said after Friday’s semifinals, where he lowered his personal best to 44.38 seconds (which would have easily made the 2016 Olympic team), that he would have been eligible for able-bodied worlds two years ago.

“They keep changing the rules,” said Leeper, who is coached by, among others, Super Bowl champion wide receiver Willie Gault. “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.”

When asked about Leeper’s case, an IAAF spokesperson emailed Saturday:

The IAAF competition rules state clearly that mechanical assistance to athletes is not allowed during athletics competitions, unless the athlete can establish on the balance of probabilities that the use of an aid would not provide him with an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.  Whilst Blake Leeper is able to participate in the USATF sanctioned Championships his results will not be ratified, because the athlete has not provide an evidence to IAAF that meets the rule stated above nor have the blades been classified under the new MASH formula (Maximum Allowable Standing Height).’

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. An IPC spokesman said Saturday that he does not believe Leeper’s status has changed, so his recent times have not counted.

Michael Norman, was was second in the 400m and is the favorite for worlds, 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 has posted the last two 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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”