Could Diana Taurasi Be Exonerated For Doping?

Basketball star Diana Taurasi tested positive for a banned drug, and her shot at the 2012 Olympics could be in jeopardy. But she swears she didn't take anything — we asked an expert if she could be telling the truth.

The former UConn star dropped from her Turkish team earlier this month when a second sample of her urine tested positive for the banned stimulant modafinil. The Turkish league hasn't formally suspended her, but if they do, she could be barred from competing in the 2012 Olympics — any suspension of six months or longer would make her ineligible. Yesterday, she told the AP she hadn't taken the drug: "I've never needed anything to help me. Only thing that I'm guilty of is taking too many jump shots." And her lawyer Howard Jacobs is projecting confidence, saying, "This will be resolved well in advance of 2012." So could Taurasi really be innocent?

Daniel M. Rosen, author of Dope: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from the Nineteenth Century to Today told me Taurasi could be telling the truth. He explains,

Lab testing is a curious thing. One of the things we need to know about it is that no test is perfect. Just because the A and the B samples actually give the same result doesn't necessarily mean that the result is correct. There are these funny things called false positives. [...] The fact that the lab got the same result both times only means that the test was consistent, but the way the anti-doping system works is that there's really no taking into account the idea of false positives, [...] so if the lab says you're positive, you're basically screwed.

And even if modafinil did show up in Taurasi's bloodstream, she might not have intentionally put it there. Rosen gave me numerous examples of athletes who tested positive for banned substances after accidentally consuming them in supplements, over-the-counter medications, and even contaminated meat. If Taurasi can show that she inadvertently ingested the modafinil, she might be able to get a reduced punishment. Her best shot at full exoneration, though, is to show sloppy handling of her sample or some "break in the chain of custody" that might have led to contamination. Jacobs notes that the lab in question has been suspended in the past by the World Anti-Doping Agency — Rosen says such suspensions can occur for a variety of reasons, including simply not performing enough tests, but questions about the lab's bona fides could help Taurasi's defense.

When it comes to an Olympic bid, though, time is not on her side. Says Rosen, "some of these appeals take forever, and it all depends on how fast the various arbitration panels move, and how fast the arbitrators come up with their decisions." Even if Taurasi's appeal makes it all the way to the highest authority, Court of Arbitration for Sport, their decision could take six months. So despite Jacobs's optimism, Rosen says, "I'm afraid that she's probably not going to be able to compete."

AP Interview: Taurasi Denies Taking Stimulant [AP]