SMU research provided basis for ruling on Paralympic runner Blake Leeper’s prostheses for the Tokyo Olympics
DALLAS (SMU) – A World Athletics panel ruling that Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper cannot compete using unnaturally long, blade-like prostheses at the Tokyo Olympics was based on research led by renowned SMU human speed expert Peter Weyand.
The governing body for track and field athletes said Monday that Leeper’s disproportionately long prostheses, would give him an “overall competitive advantage”. The ruling follows testing by Weyand and University of Montana professor Matt Bundle on Leeper and his running specific prostheses (RSPs) at SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory.
Weyand is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development. He also runs the SMU Locomotor laboratory and has done extensive analysis of many professional sprinters, including Usain Bolt and Oscar Pistorius. Bundle is the director of University of Montana’s Biomechanics Lab.
In their report to the panel, Weyand and Bundle provided a detailed explanation of why, all other things being equal, increased leg length causes increased running speed. Previous Weyand studies have shown there is a close correlation between an athlete's leg length and ground contact length, such as the distance that a runner's body travels while their foot is in contact with the ground.
“If the height of Mr. Leeper's RSPs was reduced by 15 centimeters to his natural anatomical leg length so that Mr. Leeper ran at his Maximum Allowable Standing Height (MASH), then his top speed would be likely to reduce from 11.4 m/s to 9.8 m/s, and his overall 400m time would be likely to increase by approximately eight seconds,” Weyand and Bundle wrote.
Leeper, who was born without legs below his knees, won two Paralympic medals at London 2012 and had appealed with World Athletics to be able to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Tests done at Southern Methodist University in February and March determined that Leeper’s standing height was measured at 184 centimeters with a leg length of 104 centimeters.
Under the panel’s Maximum Allowable Standing Height (MASH) rule, the 31-year-old American double amputee is not permitted to run at a height greater than 174.4 centimeters.
"The decision means Mr Leeper cannot compete wearing these new RSPs at World Athletics' major international events... or the Olympic Games," World Athletics said in a statement on Monday.
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and over 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.