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Russia limited to 10 neutral track and field athletes at Olympics

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Russia can have no more than 10 track and field athletes, competing as neutrals, at the Tokyo Olympics.

World Athletics announced a package of sanctions Thursday in relation to Russia’s track and field federation’s doping rule-breaking. The federation was also fined $10 million. Russia has been barred from track and field since 2015 for its well-publicized doping problems.

“The package of sanctions approved by the Council today reflects the seriousness of RusAF’s wrongdoing and sends a clear message that we take these types of offenses by our Member Federations extremely seriously,” World Athletics President Seb Coe said in a press release. “We have consistently tried to separate the clean athletes from a tainted system, which is why we have reinstated the ANA [Authorized Neutral Athlete] process for athletes from Russia. … Clearly the previous measures were not enough to change the culture in Russian athletics. We hope this further measure will be sufficient to provoke real change.”

Vetted Russian athletes have been allowed to compete as neutrals — not under the Russian flag — at major competitions dating to the Rio Olympics.

One Russian track and field athlete was approved to compete as a neutral in Rio — long jumper Darya Klishina, who had been based in Florida for years and met a requirement of being subject to adequate anti-doping systems outside Russia.

In 2017, 19 Russians were entered at the world championships. In 2019, 30 Russians were entered at worlds, earning six medals, led by gold medalists high jumper Mariya Lasitskene and pole vaulter Anzhelika Sidorova.

In December, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned Russia from major international competition for four years, including the 2020 and 2022 Olympics, while allowing athletes to be eligible to compete as neutrals. Russia’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is ongoing.

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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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Nike Vaporfly shoe designs deemed legal by World Athletics

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MONACO (AP) — While the governing body of track and field acknowledged on Friday that shoe technology poses a risk to the sport, it cleared distance runners to keep wearing a favored Nike design.

World Athletics published updated guidelines which limited the use of prototype shoes like the high-tech Nike style worn in a sub-2 hour marathon run by Eliud Kipchoge in Vienna in October.

Independent research showed “sufficient evidence to raise concerns that the integrity of the sport might be threatened by the recent developments in shoe technology,” the Monaco-based governing body said.

An expert working group will be created to assess new shoes entering the market.

Still, the more established Nike style called Vaporfly, increasingly favored by top marathon runners, can be worn.

World Athletics set a guideline taking effect April 30 that a shoe must have been available to buy for at least four months to be eligible for use in competition.

“If a shoe is not openly available to all then it will be deemed a prototype and use of it in competition will not be permitted,” the statement said.

The Tokyo Olympics open in just under six months.

“As we enter the Olympic year, we don’t believe we can rule out shoes that have been generally available for a considerable period of time,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said, “but we can draw a line by prohibiting the use of shoes that go further than what is currently on the market while we investigate further.

“I believe these new rules strike the right balance by offering certainty to athletes and manufacturers as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

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