Remembering Smokin’ Joe Frazier

Posted November 8th, 2011 at 3:11 pm (UTC-4)
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Sonny & Smokin' Joe Frazier

Smokin’ Joe Frazier will be remembered as one of the great boxing champions of all time, a stocky fighter who overcame bigger opponents with tremendous heart and a tremendous left hook. Frazier died November 7 at a hospice in Philadelphia after a short fight with liver cancer. He was 67.

I’ll also remember Smokin’ Joe for his visit to our Voice of

VOA's Rod Thomas

America headquarters in 2004, a visit he clearly enjoyed, because a few months later he invited me and my VOA colleagues Rod Thomas and Dwayne Collins to visit him at his boxing gym in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Marvis & Joe Frazier, 1981 Sports Illustrated cover

I brought along my two sons, Jesse and Alex, for the trip to Philly. I wanted them to get a chance to meet a boxing legend. Joining us at Joe Frazier’s Gym was his 51-year-old son, Marvis, who Smokin’ Joe once trained during his own prizefighting career.

After retiring from boxing, Marvis became a minister, and he told us, “My father was my motivation. The word of God says, ‘The glory of children are their fathers.’ I love my father more than anything in the world. My father has a special place in my heart.”

Smokin’ Joe Frazier also has a special place in the hearts of boxing fans, who remember his three epic fights against Muhammad Ali. Their bout on October 1, 1975, in the Philippines, was nicknamed “The Thrilla In Manila,” and it’s regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight bouts in history.

Muhammad Ali would describe his victory in Manila as his toughest ever fight, saying, “it’s the closest I’ve ever come to death.” Ali’s longtime trainer, Angelo Dundee, told me the two fighters needed each other to cement their legacies. “Boxers blend with each other,” said Dundee. “The perfect blend was Frazier. Whenever you threw those two guys (Ali and Frazier) into a situation, there had to be excitement.”

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

German Silva: 2011 Abebe Bikila Award Winner

Posted November 4th, 2011 at 3:52 pm (UTC-4)
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German Silva

In New York City’s Central Park Friday, German Silva was presented with the Abebe Bikila Award, an annual prize named for the great Ethiopian runner who won gold medals in the marathon at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Abebe Bikila

Central Park is an appropriate place for the 43-year-old Silva to receive the honor. It’s near the finish of two of his greatest triumphs, at the 1994 and 1995 New York City Marathons. During the ’94 race, he recovered from a wrong turn in the final mile that left him behind fellow Mexican Benjamin Paredes. Silva rallied to beat Paredes by two seconds, an incident that earned him the nickname “Wrong Way Silva.”

But Silva is known for much more than making a wrong turn on the marathon course. The Abebe Bikila Award, handed out by the New York Road Runners

Paul Tergat at VOA

club, is given to people who have made outstanding contributions to long distance running. The 2010 winner was Kenyan star Paul Tergat, who won the 2005 New York City Marathon and then a few days later visited our Voice of America headquarters here in Washington, D.C.

In his acceptance speech, Tergat said, “The history of marathon running is incomplete without the solid and indelible mark of the late Abebe Bikila’s contribution, and I am so proud to be associated with this award.”

German Silva says he’s dedicating the award to his family and all his Mexican friends, and he has a lot of them. During his career, Silva has organized running events in small rural communities, encouraged children to run and distributed running shoes to local groups throughout Mexico.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Great Year For Kenyan Marathoners

Posted November 1st, 2011 at 3:19 pm (UTC-4)
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I recently received an email from Ralph Okhiria, an engineer in Kano, Nigeria, in which he asked me what I thought about the year Kenya is having on the international marathon circuit. Well, Ralph, I know Kenya has always had a very proud pedigree in distance running, but 2011 has been an extra special year for the east African country at the classic 42-kilometer distance.

Kenyans Abel Kirui and Edna Kiplagat swept the gold medals in the men’s and women’s marathon at this year’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea. In fact, of the six medals at stake in those two races, Kenyans won five.

Patrick Makau Photo: Victah Sailer@PhotoRun

Kenya made more headlines in September and October during marathons in Germany. At the Berlin Marathon September 25, Kenya’s Patrick Makau crossed the finish line in a world record time of 2:03:38.

Five weeks later, at the Frankfurt Marathon October 30, another Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang, made an assault on Makau’s record, but fell four seconds shy, hitting the tape in 2:03:42. Let’s check out some video highlights of that race:

The great performances by Wilson Kipsang and Patrick Makau followed course records earlier in the year by fellow-Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02) at the Boston Marathon; Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40) at the London Marathon; and Moses Mosop (2:05:38) at the Chicago Marathon. In recognizing Geoffrey Mutai’s time as the “fastest marathon ever run,” the International Association of Athletics Federations said it was not eligible for world record status because of the elevation drop and point-to-point course in Boston.

All these Kenyan men are hoping to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, but this great year by Kenyan marathoners has made things difficult for Kenyan selectors, who can choose only three athletes for the Olympic men’s marathon. Kenyan officials say they will wait until after the London Marathon April 22 before naming their team.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Sad Times For Cameroon And Nigeria Football

Posted October 28th, 2011 at 2:55 pm (UTC-4)
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With Africa’s premier football tournament kicking off in less than three months in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, these are sad times in nearby Nigeria and Cameroon. The Super Eagles of Nigeria and The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, two of the traditional giants in African football, both failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Nigeria has won the Nations Cup twice, while Cameroon has been crowned African champion four times. In addition, Nigeria and Cameroon are the only African teams to win the gold medal in Olympic men’s football.

In response, the Nigeria Football Federation fired head coach Samson Siasia on Friday. Siasia

Samson Siasia

had been on the chopping block since October 8, when the Super Eagles drew 2-2 with Guinea in Abuja. The result clinched a 2012 Nations Cup berth for Guinea, and eliminated Nigeria from the Nations Cup for the first time in 25 years.

The 44-year-old Siasia, a former striker for the Super Eagles, was in charge of the team less than a year. And Cameroon took a similar tack with its Spanish coach, Javier Clemente, giving him the boot after a 14-month stint guiding the team and replacing him with Frenchman Denis Lavagne.

While the many football fans in Cameroon and Nigeria lick their wounds, they can take some solace in knowing that after a new Nations Cup champion lifts the trophy on February 12 in Libreville, Gabon, attention will shift to qualifying for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in South Africa and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Cameroon has qualified for the World Cup an African record six times, while Nigeria has made four appearances in football’s biggest event. If the teams can book tickets to Brazil 2014, that should go a long way towards making this current low point in their football fortunes a distant memory.

 

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Dikembe Mutombo In South Sudan

Posted October 25th, 2011 at 2:01 pm (UTC-4)
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Dikembe Mutombo and Sonny in Washington

For a man who’s traveled all over the world, Dikembe Mutombo sounds a bit surprised about his first visit to South Sudan, which borders his homeland in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Speaking by phone from Juba, the capital of Africa’s newest country, Dikembe tells me South Sudan is “his next door neighbor and it’s very strange” that he’s finally made it to the fledgling nation.

With the backing of the U.S. government and the National Basketball Association, Mutombo and another longtime NBA player, Sam Perkins, traveled to Juba as

Sam Perkins

“sports envoys.”

Mutombo and Perkins have been leading basketball clinics for South Sudanese youth, as well as teaching them basic life skills. “I think they learn a lot of lessons, just by seeing our presence here,” says Mutombo. “You have two NBA players who competed in the league for more than 35 seasons combined. We’ve been talking with them about not just basketball, but also education, peace and reconciliation and staying away from deadly diseases like AIDS.”

Mutombo has been described as perhaps the NBA’s greatest ever humanitarian. He’s been an international sports ambassador in the fight against AIDS, polio and malaria in Africa, and in 2007, he opened the 300-bed Biamba Marie Mutombo hospital in his birthplace of Kinshasa, a hospital named after his late mother.

“When you take the elevator to the top,” says Dikembe Mutombo, “please don’t forget to send it down, so that someone else can take it to the top.” Mutombo’s trip this week to South Sudan is proof again he’ll continue to send that elevator down to lift up the less fortunate.

 

 

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Andre Agassi Talks Tennis Recovery

Posted October 23rd, 2011 at 2:06 pm (UTC-4)
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Andre Agassi competes in Washington Photo Credit: VOA's Bill Workinger

I had a chance to talk recently with Hall of Fame tennis player Andre Agassi when he stopped here in Washington on the Champions Series tour that features some of the legends of the game.

The 41-year-old Agassi retired from the main men’s ATP World Tour five years ago after losing in the third round of the U.S. Open in New York. Because of extreme back pain, Agassi received cortisone injections in New York and at other stops during his final year on the tour.

YES! Andre liked that shot in D.C.! Photo Credit: VOA's Bill Workinger

In Washington, Agassi told me he felt good and he liked the shortened format and schedule of the Champions Series competition because it allows him to swing the racket occasionally and spend time with his family.

Agassi says in his final few years on the tour, much of his focus was on giving his body rest and recovery, especially at Grand Slam events like the U.S. Open, where players compete in often grueling, best-of-five set matches.

At this year’s U.S. Open, top players, including second-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain and third-ranked Andy Murray of Britain, complained about the event’s scheduling, including back-to-back semifinals and final without a day off. The U.S. Open is the only one of the four Grand Slam tennis events that schedules the semifinals and final on consecutive days.

Last week, the U.S. Tennis Association, which organizes the U.S. Open, said it is considering switching permanently to a Monday finish, to allow both men’s and women’s players a day off between the semifinals and the title match. Swiss star Roger Federer, whose record 16 Grand Slam singles titles include five U.S. Open championships, describes it as “the right move for our sport,”" and I’m pretty sure Andre Agassi agrees with Federer.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Sharif Bogere: The Ugandan Lion Roars in Boxing Ring

Posted October 14th, 2011 at 3:48 pm (UTC-4)
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Unbeaten Ugandan lightweight prizefighter Sharif Bogere is getting attention for his boxing skills inside the ring and his showmanship outside the ropes. ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael had this to say: “When you see him, you’ll remember him because of his over-the-top ring entrance. He wears a lion’s head and skin and is brought to the ring inside a cage. Hey, if he wanted to get noticed, he has. Once inside the ring, Bogere also makes things interesting. He looks like he has good power.”

Bogere (21-0, 13 KOs) showed off that power October 7, on the eve of his 23rd birthday, scoring a third round knockout of previously unbeaten Francisco Contreras (16-1, 13 KOs) of the Dominican Republic. Let’s check out some of the video highlights.

In the amateur ranks, Sharif Bogere was a five-time African champion and captain of the Ugandan national team. He made his professional debut in 2008 and now could be headed for a possible world title shot and even more publicity, and The Ugandan Lion clearly loves the attention. “I know that boxing is about entertaining and that people who pay to watch boxing want to be entertained,” says Bogere. “They want to have fun. I’ll have the lion’s head and the skin brought in again. It’s all part of the show.”

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Big Engine & Big Payday For Kenya’s Moses Mosop

Posted October 10th, 2011 at 2:29 pm (UTC-4)
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Moses Mosop crosses the finish line in Chicago. Photo Credit: Nam Y. Huh, AP

Moses Mosop is nicknamed The Big Engine for his powerful endurance and running technique, and on Sunday, with his motor apparently not even at full throttle, the 26-year-old Kenyan cruised to a course record at the Chicago Marathon, clocking two hours, five minutes and 37 seconds.

Mosop said he wasn’t even at full strength in the race, running at about 85% of optimal because of an Achilles tendon injury.  What could The Big Engine do at 100%?  “Maybe I would run 2:02,” said Mosop, who ran a spectacular 2:03:06 in his marathon debut in Boston in April. Mosop finished four seconds behind fellow-Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai in Boston. Their times were the fastest ever recorded for the marathon, but because of Boston’s point-to-point course and overall downhill slope, they were not officially recognized.

Another Kenyan, Patrick Makau, set the current world record of 2:03:38 at last month’s Berlin Marathon. If Mosop’s comments about his conditioning are true, Makau might not have the record for long.

The Big Engine also earned a big payday in Chicago, winning $150,000 in prize money and bonuses. Mosop was only 19 years old when he competed for Kenya at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he finished seventh in the men’s 10,000 meters. Based on his performances in Chicago and Boston this year, Mosop is now a strong candidate to run the marathon for Kenya’s 2012 Olympic team in London.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Inspirational Pistol Pete

Posted October 5th, 2011 at 2:44 pm (UTC-4)
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My Dad played college football against Pistol Pete Scontras about 60 years ago. Before setting sail on his career in the United States Navy, Dad was a running back for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, while Pistol Pete, legend has it, played just about every position for Maine Maritime Academy. With each passing year, the tall tales just grow taller as to whether Young or Scontras outperformed the other on the gridiron.

While I never saw Pistol Pete play football, I have seen him run. Almost 30 years ago, when Pete was about the same age I am now, 50, I remember seeing him cross the Memorial Bridge from

Memorial Bridge

Kittery, Maine, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on one of his daily training runs. The Pistol had enough speed to win more than a few age group awards at local races in the Maine-New Hampshire seacoast area.

Pete also tried to help me launch my own naval career, and while I didn’t follow in Dad’s footsteps, Pete did inspire me with two simple words that came at the end of our last meeting: “Keep running.”

And I wasn’t the only one. One of Pete’s sons, Dean, says his father has inspired many to “keep running,” and that inspiration will be on display October 30th, when the 36thMarine Corps Marathon is held here in Washington. Dean has called me in as his “wingman” for the final few miles of the marathon, miles I’ll be dedicating to Pistol Pete Scontras.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Do The Right Thing: Mares vs. Agbeko II

Posted October 2nd, 2011 at 6:12 pm (UTC-4)
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Agbeko and Mares trade punches in their first fight

It’s nice to see Ghanaian fighter Joseph King Kong Agbeko getting a rematch against Mexico’s Abner Mares. Their first fight on August 13 in Las Vegas may have been the most controversial bout of the year. Nnamdi Hollywood Moweta, VOA’s undisputed, Reigning Prince of Pugilistics, says Mares stole King Kong’s International Boxing Federation bantamweight title, and I can’t agree more. Referee Russell Mora allowed Mares to throw numerous low blows throughout the 12 round bout, without deducting any points.

Nnamdi had big doubts a Mares-Agbeko rematch would happen, but it’s set for December 3 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Vinny Scolpino, King Kong’s manager, told me the IBF, Mares and Showtime television, which will broadcast the rematch, all “did the right thing” by setting up another encounter.

With a large Hispanic population in southern California, the unbeaten Mexican Mares (22-0-1, 13 KOs) will undoubtedly be the crowd favorite. But Nnamdi says he hopes to rally some African support for Agbeko (28-3, 22 KOs) ahead of the fight. Another nice thing to see will be a new referee on December 3. Russell Mora’s performance on August 13 rates as the worst I’ve ever witnessed in a championship fight.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

About

Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

The Sonny Side of Sports is broadcast Monday through Friday at 1630 and 1830 UTC/GMT. And on Fridays at 1730 UTC/GMT, Sonny has an expanded 30-minute sports show.

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