Ruling Finds Prostheses Make Runner Unfairly Tall

Blake Leeper sees an effort to keep disabled athletes out of Olympics
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2020 4:22 PM CDT
Ruling Finds Prostheses Make Runner Unfairly Tall
Blake Leeper waves to the crowd before the 400-meter dash at the US Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, in July 2019.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Blake Leeper has been running in top events, including the Paralympics, with the help of prostheses for five years. He was working toward making the next US Olympic team, to compete against able-bodied runners. But Leeper, 31, hit a major obstacle Monday, when the top sports court in the world ruled that his blades give him an unfair advantage, the New York Times reports. World Athletics decided that he becomes taller than he would be with legs. Leeper runs like a 6-foot-8 athlete, the group said, while a person with a torso the size of his would be just 5-foot-9. Leeper actually measures about 6-foot-2 on the blades, which is about average for top runners in the 400-meter event. "There is no way to determine how tall Blake would be or should be," his lawyer said. "Everything is a spectrum. There are all sorts of variations, and there is no reliable way to say where someone would fall in that spectrum."

Leeper, who is Black, sees discrimination in the ruling and considers it an effort to keep disabled athletes off the Olympics team, per the Times. Leeper, who was born without lower legs, points out that the World Athletics decision relied on a study that included only Asian and Caucasian people. "Guess what? Some African Americans have longer legs," his lawyer said. The world's governing body of track and field didn't buy that argument. "World Athletics is aware of no proof that African American athletes have significantly different bodily dimensions (proportionality), and certainly not to the extent identified in this case," its statement said. Leeper said his strong performances last year, moving him close to an Olympics spot, may have brought the issue to a head. "I'm the first double amputee to run 44 seconds" for 400 meters, he said, adding, "now they say I have an unfair advantage." The decision could keep him out of the Olympics, now scheduled for next year in Tokyo. Leeper plans to take his case to a civil court in Switzerland. (Read more Paralympics stories.)

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