With the U.S. Olympic team set and boarding their flights to Tokyo, we at The Manual are not a little obsessed with this year’s Summer Games. (And that includes new sports, including surfing, skateboarding, and climbing, along with heritage disciplines like track and field and swimming.) So when we saw eight-time Paralympic competitor Blake Leeper announced as the new face of Nike’s underwear campaign, we raced to our keyboards and frantically started banging out words to describe its Olympic-sized significance.
Some of those words: historic, fast, bold. All apply to Leeper, who becomes the first paralympian to front the company’s rarified pair of undies. After making his international debut in 2009, Leeper has steadily accrued a neck’s worth of hardware, including silver and bronze medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London in the 400- and 200-meters, respectively, along with more silvers and a gold at the IPC World Championships. Pre-pandemic, he was ranked the sixth-fastest man in the world. And with its choice of current and future sports greats, Nike’s choice of the Tennessee native breaks new ground for the company, thrusting him into the greatest exposure of his life (off the track and podium, at least).
Most recently, Leeper concluded a year-long appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, failing in his quest to compete in the Olympics themselves like pioneer and fellow double-leg amputee Oscar Pistorius. Officials decided that his running blades, which elevate him to six feet, two inches, would have to be substantially shortened to negate unfair competitive advantage.
“I feel like my story and message of having hope and strength can help a lot of people,” Leeper said in the announcement release. “I just want to get on that stage and say I’m born without legs and I’m one of the fastest men in the world, so if you can see my life as an example, then anything is possible. So whatever you’re going through today — if it feels tough, if it feels hard — congratulations, because you’re going in the right path.”
As one might surmise from the company’s pedigree and Leeper’s own bona fides, the underwear collection skews toward the performance-oriented, though they’re not exclusive to it. Cut from luxe cotton, flex micro, elite micro, and everyday cotton stretch fabrics, they’ll get you through sweaty summertime workouts just as well as lazy Saturdays, and they slip under basketball shorts or a linen suit at will.
For many Olympians and Paralympians, Tokyo represents the pinnacle of their sporting achievement, and post-Games, they’ll move on to other ventures and traditional careers. Leeper, at 31, may be taking his final swing at international sporting achievement. But with his new Nike campaign, people from all around the world will see the athlete in a different light. With its one-of-a-kind significance, that light may be the brightest of them all.
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