For a Monday morning, Blake Leeper is in a surprisingly good mood. "I'm training for something, even though I don't even know if I can participate. But that's what makes it so great," he says on the phone. He lives in Los Angeles and is on his way to training, like every day, he has big plans. "Often, handicapped people are seen as less efficient, which is not okay. I would like to try to push the boundaries of the possible and change the way of thinking."
Leeper, an American sprinter with no lower legs, wants to go to Tokyo next year. Already in July for the Olympic Games, not just a month later for the Paralympics. World Athletics Association, formerly known as IAAF, wants to prevent this. The Cas International Sports Court now has to decide who is right with his will. The hearing will take place on Monday 13 July, but not in London as planned, but via video conference.
For the second time in twelve years, the sports court is faced with the question of whether a sprinter may compete against prosthetic devices against non-disabled competition or whether the artificial legs are an unfair advantage. The debate about whether to choose between inclusion and fair competition has been accompanying athletics for a long time. It has come no closer to a clear answer.
Leeper's life is an American success story, ready for film, as the 30-year-old says. He was born without a lower leg in the US state of Tennessee, became an alcoholic as a teenager and two years ago became the "fastest man on no legs", as the British newspaper The Telegraph called him. Leeper is skilled in dramatically narrating his past. You can book him as a motivational speaker or buy his audiobook to be persuaded to do interval runs for over two hours.
After Leeper's birth, the doctor told his parents that their son would never run. Leeper started wearing prostheses when he was nine months old. As a teenager, he played basketball and baseball for the school team. He was always sporty, sometimes the prostheses didn't come after. "If my leg fell off while doing sports, I picked it up," Leeper says. "That's how I learned early on to get up and deal with setbacks."
Leeper does not bow to the rules
The biggest setback came when Leeper tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a cocaine breakdown product, in 2015. He was suspended for two years, the United States Anti-Doping Agency shortened the time-out to one year, but was still not allowed to participate in the Paralympic Games in Rio. "When I was suspended, I lost my sponsors, including my sprint prostheses. But this mistake has changed my life for the better," said Leeper. "I had to figure out what to do with my life."
He is now sober and faster than ever. Last year he ran 400 meters in 44.38 seconds at the US Championships. A sprinter on prostheses has never been faster over this distance. He has experienced ups and downs in the past, and he does not make the present easy. He is currently an athlete who cannot be classified. His legs are too unnatural for the World Athletics Association and too long for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
Two years ago, the IPC changed the rules on the length of the prosthesis, for fear that some sprinters could gain an advantage with longer legs. This is controversial. Leeper does not bow to the new rules, so his times are not internationally recognized. Nevertheless, he wants to start again at paralymic competitions at some point. "I love the Paralympics, I wouldn't be here without them."