LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – One of the fastest men on the planet — who was born with no legs, but has shattered records in the U.S. and around the world — is in a legal battle to compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.
Blake Leeper, 31, recently qualified for the Olympics, only to be disqualified by an international track and field committee which thinks his prosthetic legs could be giving him an advantage. Now his case is caught up in the higher courts.
“I always say that my adversity is my advantage,” Leeper told CBS2’s DeMarco Morgan while training at Woodley Park in Van Nuys.
The double amputee is an eight-time Paralympics competitor. In 2019, Leeper was ranked the sixth fastest man in the world.
“The fact that I was born less than, the fact that I had to learn how to fight at an early age has really taught me how strong I can truly be,” Leeper said.
Leeper spends most of his time training at Woodley, along with other parks and stadiums throughout Southern California.
“The only true disability in life is a bad attitude,” he said.
His chance to vie for gold on what is perhaps the world’s biggest stage has come to a screeching halt. Leeper has been barred from participating in the Tokyo Olympics because his prosthetic legs are said to give him an advantage over able-bodied athletes. The decision came down from the former International Association of Athletics Federations, now known as World Athletics (WA), the governing body for track and field.
“I submitted all the data, all the science. I had nothing to hide, DeMarco. All of my training logs, my coaches testified,” Leeper said.
Leeper said officials claim his prosthetic limbs make him taller — based on height restrictions which are only in place for disabled athletes, and not able-bodied ones – and possibly faster.
“And we get to the end, and they said, ‘well, the reason why we feel like you have an unfair advantage is because you’re too tall in your running blades.’
Leeper explains that lowering his blade height can possibly impact his speed.
“It can, and that’s the hardest part,” Leeper explains. “You change centimeters on your height, or you change centimeters on your shoe lifts…it can potentially slow my speed down.”
Leeper and his legal team are accusing WA of being discriminatory because of his disability and race.
“I think that was the whole initial – they said you at your height is too fast – you are too fast at the height that you are running on,” Leeper said. “We gotta switch it. We gotta change it.”
Leeper’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, is the same attorney who represented South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, who was allowed to compete in the 2012 London Olympics.
“If you look at data on black runners and athletes, they tend to have longer legs than other ethnic populations,” Kessler told CBSLA.
The case is currently before the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. Kessler doesn’t believe there should be a difference between Leeper’s case or Pistorius’ case.
“Well, there should be no difference,” Kessler said. “Oscar ran at heights that are very similar to Blake’s, but they did not even look at the height issue at the time that we had Oscar’s arbitration.”
Kessler is hopeful the case will be successful.
“We are hopeful that the Swiss Supreme Court will do the right thing, but we are not depending on that,” Kessler said.
Leeper is also currently in the process of reapplying to the WA.
“To be honest with you DeMarco, it hurts, because my whole life being born disabled, being born different, I’ve always been told that I’ve been born different,” Leeper said. “Yes, I am different. Yes, I don’t look like the typical runner, your average runner, but I got the same heart and the same dedication and the same determination as your Olympic gold medalist. But the only thing they’re saying is, ‘it’s not right because you’re disabled.’”
CBS2 reached out to World Athletics and is awaiting comment.
“You just don’t put equipment on,” Leeper said. “You just don’t put running blades on and go out there and break world records. You have to put in the time and the energy and the sacrifice. And for me to get there and they say, ‘wait, wait, wait, you’re running fast. You’re running too fast than our expectations of a disabled man. And because you’re running too fast, we feel like it’s unfair.’”
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