GENEVA (AP) — An American runner who uses two prosthetic legs lost an appeal Monday in his bid to try to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a decision by the governing body of track and field that had ruled Blake Leeper gets a competitive advantage against able-bodied runners because of the added height his prostheses give him.
“This means that Mr. Leeper cannot compete in the Olympic Games or (World Athletic Series) competitions with the prostheses he uses at present,” World Athletics said in a statement.
The 31-year-old Leeper, who was born with no legs below the knee, can challenge the ruling at the Swiss supreme court before the Olympics open in July 2021.
“I will never give up and will continue to do all I can to compete and be judged by standards that are non-discriminatory, in every way,” the 400-meter runner said.
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. His 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.
The case was similar to the one lodged by Oscar Pistorius. The South African runner was cleared to compete in able-bodied events after CAS found his carbon-fiber blades did not give him an advantage.
Pistorius went on to compete at the 2012 London Olympics and reached the semifinals in the 400 meters. One month later, at the Paralympics, Leeper took silver behind Pistorius in the 400.
Kessler also represented Pistorius.
In Leeper’s appeal at CAS, the three judges ruled his prostheses “enabled him to run at a height that was several inches taller than his maximum possible height if he had intact biological legs.”
World Athletics said the prostheses gave him the legs of a 6-foot-8 man, although he would be 5-foot-9 “with biological legs.”
“This increased leg length gives Mr. Leeper an artificial performance advantage over 400m of ‘several seconds,’” the track body said.
Leeper, however, won a partial victory. CAS decided that the burden to prove if prosthetic legs give a competitive advantage or not should shift from the athlete to the governing body.
Breach of public policy is among the few grounds that Swiss federal judges can intervene in an appeal against a CAS verdict. The sports court said the full verdict in Leeper’s case will be published by Wednesday.
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