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.”
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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