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Blake Leeper loses appeal to use prosthetic legs in Olympic bid

In the men's 400m final, Fred Kerley breaks Michael Norman's winning streak and captures his second national title.

Blake Leeper, a double amputee who finished fifth in the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships 400m, lost his appeal to be allowed to race in able-bodied competition, such as the Olympics, with the prosthetic legs he has used.

A Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) panel deemed that Leeper’s prostheses make him nearly six inches taller than he would be if he had biological legs and give him an artificial performance advantage of “several seconds” over 400m, according to World Athletics, which ruled Leeper’s prostheses ineligible on Feb. 18.

“He would be 5’9’’ with biological legs, but his prostheses give him the legs of a 6’8” man,” according to World Athletics.

Leeper said in a statement released by his lawyers that the International Paralympic Committee’s rules on the subject are racially biased against Black athletes, which World Athletics rejected in a statement.

Leeper’s legal team said the height limit was based on data drawn from “height proportions of Caucasians and Asians,’' not Black athletes. “This part of the [court] decision was racially discriminatory and thus against public policy,’' said Leeper’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler.

“I will never give up and will continue to do all I can to compete and be judged by standards that are nondiscriminatory, in every way,” Leeper said in the statement.

Leeper, a 2012 Paralympic medalist, sprinted fast enough to be a contender for the U.S. Olympic team, should he have been 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.

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.

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.

Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prostheses since he was a toddler.

The CAS panel ruled in favor of Leeper in shifting the burden of proof from the athlete to World Athletics in cases of whether prostheses give a competitive advantage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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