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Blake Leeper, Olympic hopeful double amputee, has prosthetics ruled ineligible

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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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Usain Bolt, sleep-deprived dad and budding cyclist, would unretire if the man in charge called

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Usain Bolt isn’t doing much running these days, but he would unretire if one person asked: longtime coach Glen Mills.

“If my coach came back and told me, let’s do this, I will, because I believe so much in my coach,” Bolt said this week in a video interview with Variety. “So I know if he says we’re going to do this, I know it’s possible. Give Glen Mills a call, and I’ll be back.”

Mills coached Bolt to eight Olympic titles and world records in the 100m (9.58 seconds) and 200m (19.19) before the Jamaican legend retired in 2017. Bolt has occasionally visited the track since, which may have been a mistake.

“My coach gets too excited when I come to the track,” Bolt said, “so I stay away.”

Bolt’s days are now spent as a father to daughter Olympia Lightning Bolt, born in May and introduced to the world via social media on Tuesday. Bolt said parenting is harder than breaking a world record.

“I got sick the first week because I was scared to fall asleep,” said Bolt, adding that he has been spit up on a few times. “So I stayed up at night just watching her because I’m a heavy sleeper. But I’ve learned that I’m going to wake. I’m going to get up no matter what. I’m getting better, and I’m learning.”

Bolt said he was unaware that Serena Williams‘ 2-year-old daughter is named Olympia (as a middle name, but she goes by Olympia) until this week’s reveal. His girlfriend, Kasi Bennett, came up with the name.

“My girlfriend, I told her, I think you’re putting a little bit of pressure on her to name her Olympia,” said Bolt, who previously said he would not encourage his child to take up sprinting. “But, we’ll see, I’m not going to force her to do anything.”

In retirement, Bolt has been seen doing a step class, riding a Peloton and playing professional soccer. Lately, he’s been road cycling with friends, upping the mileage every week.

“I have a newfound respect for cyclists because you see the Tour de France, they make it look easy. It’s not,” Bolt said.

Bolt expressed disappointment with the Olympic postponement to 2021, even though he’s not competing anymore. He does hope to be in Tokyo in some capacity. He found a silver lining.

“The only good thing about is that I actually get to take my daughter next year if the world gets back,” he said. “One of my moments is to have my first born just to walk on the track with me. That’s something that I always thought about.”

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British gymnastics stars speak up about abuse amid investigation

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Decorated British gymnasts Becky and Ellie Downie spoke out about specific abuses they’ve experienced in the sport, becoming the latest athletes to come forward this week.

The Downie sisters, in social media posts on Thursday, said they’ve seen and experienced an “unsafe attitude to young girls’ weight, and the resulting mental health issues” and “dangerous consequences of over-training, which frequently was the norm, for fear of punishment or deselection.”

The comments came two days after British Gymnastics announced it launched an independent review into allegations of abuse in the sport. Before that, former British gymnasts said they were assaulted, bullied or abused by coaches.

“The behaviors we have heard about in recent days are completely contrary to our standards of safe coaching and have no place in our sport,” British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen said Tuesday. “It is clear that gymnasts did not feel they could raise their concerns to British Gymnastics, and it is vital that an independent review helps us better understand why so we can remove any barriers as quickly as possible.”

The Downie sisters are Olympians and world championships medalists.

“Over the past few days we’ve been watching our former teammates and friends bravely sharing their stories, and we can’t sit by and not offer support for them by sharing our own experiences,” they posted with the caption, “Our Story.” “Speaking out is something we’ve both felt we really needed to do for a long time now, but in truth, we’ve been afraid to do so.”

Becky Downie, the 2019 World silver medalist on uneven bars, said she was overtrained “to the point of physical breakdown” many times.

She said she was called “mentally weak” for speaking up at a national team camp and later suffered an ankle injury as a result of the unsafe training approaches. Downie required a fourth surgery on the ankle.

Ellie Downie, the 2019 World bronze medalist on vault, said she’s been made to feel ashamed of her weight for almost her entire career. That included a nutritionist telling her to submit daily photos of her in her underwear and everything she ate to ensure she wasn’t lying about her diet.

She said she was told at a national camp to lose six kilograms (13 pounds). If she hadn’t “made a dent” within two weeks, “there’d be consequences.”

The sisters said gymnasts were weighed regularly.

“We all know off by heart the weight of a bottle of water, and consequently eating and drinking the night before weigh day wasn’t worth the risk,” Ellie wrote. “To this day we still hide food for the fear of it being found.”

The Downies said there has been change since Becky Downie spoke up in 2018 about unsafe training, including the discontinuation of routine weigh-ins.

“We’re aware our contribution raises more troubling issues the sport must confront, but we truly hope it will contribute to positive change,” they wrote. “What’s clear from speaking to many different gymnasts from all over the world, this is a gymnastics culture problem, as opposed to just a national one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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