Tatyana McFadden, Brad Snyder
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Two years to Tokyo: Five Paralympic storylines

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Five Paralympic storylines, two years until the Tokyo Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25, 2020 …

1. Can the U.S. close the gap on China?

While China evolved to become the U.S.’ biggest threat in the Summer Olympics the last two decades, it has come to dominate the Paralympics. The Chinese earned about twice as many medals as the second-place nation on average at the last four Games.

China has gapped the rest of the world in track and field and swimming, which have more than 300 medal events, or about 60 percent of the Paralympic program.

The U.S. was fourth in total medals in 2012 and 2016 and has not been in the top two since it hosted in Atlanta in 1996. There is a little hope. There are 15 fewer combined track and field and swimming events in Tokyo as there were in Rio. Two more medal events were added in triathlon, which debuted in Rio with the U.S. leading the sport’s medal standings.

2. Tatyana McFadden’s elusive title

One of the world’s most dominant athletes of the last half-decade still lacks one major title — Paralympic marathon champion.

Recall that in Rio, McFadden took silver in a photo finish after 26.2 miles. Shocking for a woman who swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon wheelchair races in 2013, 2014 and 2015, plus the 2016 Boston and London Marathons leading into Rio.

McFadden suddenly became beatable. She finished fourth at the 2017 Boston Marathon after multiple hospital visits and surgeries for blood clots in her legs. Her four-year win streak in New York City was snapped last year. She was runner-up at the London Marathon in April.

McFadden, who has 17 medals between the Summer and Winter Games, could also take aim at moving up the list of most decorated U.S. Paralympians. Trischa Zorn is out of reach with 55 medals, and No. 2 Jessica Long (23 medals) is still active. But McFadden could move as high as No. 3 with anything close to her medal hauls from 2012 or 2016.

Speaking of Long, she will be 28 years old come 2020, which would be her fifth Games. The Russian-born swimmer from Baltimore had a difficult 2016, battling through shoulder problems and waiting until her last race to earn gold in Rio. She came back with eight golds at the 2017 Worlds, which lacked some of the top international swimmers.

3. Big change for swim star Brad Snyder

Snyder, a 34-year-old who served with the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan, had one of the most successful Rio Games for an American — three gold medals, one silver medal and a world record in the pool.

He has since taken up triathlon. Snyder is not ruling out a return to swimming — he’ll make a decision by early 2020 on possibly doubling up — but it’s no longer his focus.

“When I finished in Rio, I wasn’t sure what the future would hold for me, and to be honest I was leaning towards retirement,” Snyder, who since Rio became a teacher at the U.S. Naval Academy, said in an email this week. “I needed a career shift, and a new set of challenges. … When I finished my able-bodied swimming career in 2006, I took up CrossFit and triathlon, so it was only natural for me to do the same post Rio.”

4. From the NFL to the Paralympics?

Former St. Louis Rams running back Isaiah Pead is a U.S. Paralympic hopeful. Pead, who lost his left leg after a November 2016 car accident, is training to be a 100m and 200m sprinter and possibly a long jumper. He’s also interested in sitting volleyball.

“I can’t make promises as to what I would run because I’m still learning how to run,” Pead said in an email this week. “I’m not sure when my official first race or what the meet will be because I’m trying to not look so far ahead, but I plan to definitely be ready to run by the beginning of the year.”

5. New names to watch

Particularly in track and field, first-time Paralympic hopefuls are poised to contend for medals. A few notables:

Stirley Jones, Track and Field: Jones competed in the 2016 Olympic Trials in the 200m after being diagnosed with Keratoconus in high school. Now the 33-year-old is ranked No. 2 in the world in his 100m classification, trailing only Jason Smyth, the Irishman who won the last three Paralympic titles.

Noah Malone, Track and Field: The Indiana high school junior already owns a 100m personal best that would have earned gold in Rio. Malone lost his vision in junior high school due to Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy.

Jillian Williams, Volleyball: The former teenage beauty pageant competitor was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma as a freshman volleyball player at Texas Lutheran and had her lower left leg amputated on July 7, 2016. Less than two years later, Williams made the U.S. sitting team for the world championship, where the Americans earned silver last month.

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MORE: 20 U.S. athletes to watch for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

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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Oscar Pistorius appeal dismissed, closing 5-year legal saga

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Legal experts say Olympian Oscar Pistorius has finally run out of options to appeal his 13-year prison sentence for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp.

South Africa’s highest court dismissed Pistorius’ request to review the sentence on Monday, bringing a close to a five-year legal saga surrounding the man who was once one of the world’s most celebrated athletes.

“There is nothing they can do,” said Pierre de Vos, a constitutional law expert at the University of Cape Town.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal more than doubled Pistorius’ six-year sentence for the murder of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, who he shot four times through a locked bathroom door in his home on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

The minimum sentence for murder in South Africa is 15 years, and the court called the initial six-year sentence “shockingly lenient.”

The double-amputee runner, who is 31, claims he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder.

Pistorius was originally convicted of manslaughter, but that was overturned and replaced with a murder conviction by the Supreme Court. He has also tried and failed to appeal his murder conviction in the Constitutional Court.

“Oscar Pistorius has exhausted his legal avenues in terms of the criminal process,” said Luvuyo Mfaku, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority.

Pistorius must serve at least half of his 13-year sentence before he can be considered for parole.

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