Print and Go Back ESPN.com: WNBA [Print without images]

Friday, February 4, 2011
Diana Taurasi passed polygraph test

By Shaun Assael
ESPN The Magazine

Diana Taurasi, the women's basketball star who tested positive in Turkey for the banned stimulant Modafinil, passed a polygraph test last month in which she insisted she never took the drug.

The results are part of a written defense that Taurasi sent to the Turkish Basketball Federation last week in which she seeks dismissal of the case against her.

According to a report by the polygraph examiner, former Chicago police officer John Fritz, Taurasi was asked two "relevant" questions Jan. 18: Did you at any time take the drug Modafinil or any similar generic brand name drug? And did you lie to club management when you denied ever using the drug Modafinil or any similar generic brand name drug?

Fritz's report states that her score showed "that Subject was truthful when she answered 'no' to the above relevant questions."

The stakes for the reigning WNBA scoring champ are high. Taurasi was fired by her Turkish club, Fenerbahce, in December and faces a ban of up to two years that imperils her chance to play for the United States at the 2012 London Olympics.

If she is found guilty and officially suspended, the Phoenix Mercury guard would also be subject to a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rule that would erase any time she served if she went to play for the WNBA. The rule, which is intended to discourage banned athletes from playing in leagues not regulated by WADA, would effectively end her ability to earn money abroad if she wants to continue to play in the U.S.

WNBA officials say they are "monitoring the situation."

In the motion to dismiss, Taurasi's Los Angeles defense attorney, Howard Jacobs, cites several irregularities in the way her case was handled by Turkish authorities -- including a seven-day period, he says, during which there was no documentation indicating where her urine samples were kept while they were being transported from Istanbul to Ankara.

"There's no way of knowing whether they were kept in extreme heat or cold conditions that might have caused a change in her sample, or whether they might have been tampered with," Jacobs says. "That alone should be grounds for dismissal."

His motion also attacks the Turkish lab for the way it concluded that the substance in her system was Modafinil.

The WADA gives its labs specific criteria for identifying Modafinil, and Jacobs insists Taurasi's results fell outside the agency's allowable margin of error. "This goes right to the heart of identification," he says. "It's unclear based on these tests that we're even talking about Modafinil."

The Ankara lab had its drug-testing credentials suspended by WADA for three months in 2009 due to problems with its methods. Jacobs says that should cast further doubts on its findings.

Modafinil, a stimulant prescribed to treat narcolepsy patients who suffer from excessive sleepiness and need help staying up, has been on WADA's banned list since 2004 but is a curious drug for a high-profile athlete to take these days.

It has fallen largely out of fashion since the height of its BALCO-era popularity, as evidenced by the fact that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has reported only two positives in the past six years. By contrast, according to Jacobs, the Ankara lab reported four positives in December alone.

Two of Taurasi's teammates on Fenerbahce, Penny Taylor and Hana Horakova, have asked for a different lab to test their samples.

Taurasi has been suspended from her Turkish team since her "A" sample tested positive in December. On Jan. 6, Turkish officials announced that her "B" sample also was a positive, confirming the finding.

The Turkish Basketball Federation is expected to rule on Taurasi's case in the next few weeks. If the lab's finding is upheld, Taurasi's next step would be to appeal to the Turkish Sports and Youth Arbitration Association, and if necessary, the international Court for Arbitration in Sport, which is the Supreme Court for doping cases.

"The longest this could take is nine months, but we think we'll prevail much more quickly than that," Jacobs says.

Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.