DES MOINES — Beaming as he walked off the blue track inside Drake Stadium, Blake Leeper held the ticket in his left hand. “Congratulations,” it read in red capital letters. It was embossed with the USATF Outdoor Championships logo and included instructions to report immediately to team processing. It was both hard proof of what Leeper had achieved this weekend and a simple token in a complex, ongoing saga.
Saturday afternoon, Leeper finished fifth in the men’s 400-meters final, an unremarkable result made remarkable by his circumstances. Leeper was born with his legs missing below the knees and has worn prosthetics since he was 9 months old. He competes with blade-like prosthetics, similar to what South African Oscar Pistorius employed at the 2012 London Olympics. Leeper wants to compete at the Tokyo Olympics next summer. The IAAF, track and field’s governing body, is fighting to keep him from doing so.