Blake Leeper is a double amputee, self-described alcoholic, and coming off a two-year suspension for testing positive for cocaine that ended last year. He also may be one of the best 400-meter runners in the United States—and by extension, the world—after dominating the field with a PR of 44.42 seconds in Prague yesterday.
The video is worth watching: Because of his prosthetics, Leeper takes a long time to get started, and the runners inside him blow by and make up the stagger almost immediately. Then, roughly halfway into the race, Leeper hits his stride, and comes back to totally destroy the field. (Runner-up Pavel Maslák has won the last three world indoor championships in the 400, although he’s not nearly that good outdoors.)
44.42 is fast. It’s the fourth-fastest time by an American and the eighth-fastest by anyone in the world this year. It would have been among the top 10 in the world and top three in the U.S. last year and the year before, and, if run at a U.S. championships, would instantly put Leeper in contention to represent his country internationally. Simply making the field at nationals last year—he is believed to be the first double-amputee ever to compete there—was a huge deal for Leeper, and he advanced to the semifinals then. Now it looks like he’s a threat to do a lot more on the national level, at the very least, over the next couple years.
Leeper’s time is faster than Oscar Pistorius ever ran in the 400, although the International Paralympic Committee is not calling it a record because, according to NBC’s Nick Zaccardi, the IPC hasn’t ratified the prosthetics Leeper uses:
From 1 January this year, World Para Athletics introduced a new formula regrading the maximum allowable standing height (MASH) of each athlete with double leg amputations (above knee and below knee), an IPC spokesperson said in an email. As far as we are aware, Blake has yet to be classified under this new MASH formula and is therefore running on a blade length that is currently invalid. In most cases, the new formula is reducing the blade length of most double leg amputations.
Those regulations, though, are only for Paralympic events, and Leeper has shown himself capable of being one of the fastest 400-meter sprinters in the world, period. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in 2008 that Pistorius’s prosthetics didn’t give him an unfair advantage, and the South African competed at the 2008 Olympics. But track’s governing body did successfully block a German long jumper* with a prosthetic leg from competing in Rio. With Leeper succeeding internationally and at least two double-amputees thriving in the NCAA, the controversy over prosthetics in track and field may be on its way back.