Leeper’s preferred running legs made him roughly 6 feet 6 inches tall when he competed. In 2018, he ran the 400 meters in 44.42 seconds, gaining notice as the next great blade runner. The time would have earned him a spot on the 2016 United States Olympic team.
However, under the methods that World Athletics began relying on following that performance — set by the International Paralympic Committee — he should have been competing at about 6 feet tall. By the time Leeper landed in Weyand’s lab for evaluation, he was trying to gain approval to race in legs that made him about 6-foot-3. World Athletics would not budge.
The advantage, Weyand explained, was that the longer Leeper can make his legs, the more ground he can cover while his J-shaped “feet” are in contact with the ground. Other runners do not have the option of lengthening their limbs to gain speed, he noted.
Weyand and his team calculated that Leeper would most likely sacrifice one-tenth of a meter per second in speed for every centimeter he lost in height. When they tested him, that is exactly what happened. In a series of rulings over the next two months, Leeper’s efforts to compete for a spot in the Olympics were denied.
And yet, even Weyand acknowledged that science has its limits, which is what has made Coe’s efforts to find a balance between inclusion and competitive fairness so fraught.
It is far easier, Weyand said, to predict and quantify the advantages of a mechanical leg in a laboratory than hormone levels. Understanding why and how much a naturally elevated testosterone level helps a female runner at 100, 200 or 10,000 meters is a different challenge.
“Those issues are much tougher,” Weyand said.
Coe knows that, and he has received plenty of criticism, but he is not backing down, no matter how big the stars are who cannot compete.
“I do not pretend the world is a fair place,” he said.