South Africa’s Fallen Blade Runner

Posted February 20th, 2013 at 3:14 pm (UTC-4)
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Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during a break in court proceedings Wednesday in Pretoria. He was applying for bail after being charged with shooting dead his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. Photo: Reuters

Where there was once joy and smiles on the track, there are now bowed heads and tears in a Pretoria courtroom. The last time I blogged about Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s “Blade Runner,” was on July 4, 2012, the Independence Day holiday in the United States.

Pistorius described that day as one of the proudest of his life, the day he was officially selected for South Africa’s Olympic team for the London Games. I followed Pistorius to London and I was at the Olympic Stadium when he made history by becoming the first double leg amputee to compete against able-bodied Olympians. He didn’t win any medals at the Olympics, but it didn’t really matter, because his presence at the Games provided plenty of inspiration.

Oscar Pistorius poses for photographers near the Tower Bridge in London in September, 2012. Photo: Reuters

After the Olympics, the 26-year-old Pistorius stayed in London and won three medals, two gold and a silver, at the Paralympics for disabled athletes. His story of overcoming adversity made him a national hero in South Africa, a country that loves its sporting heroes.

When that hero is charged with murder, though, feelings and allegiances can change. Pistorius was arrested on Valentine’s Day, February 14, and charged with the murder of his girlfriend, 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp.

“It is very difficult to accept it because he was a role model,” said Jacqueline Pretorius, a South African who spoke with Reuters news agency outside the courtroom Wednesday. “I think about all the children who looked up to him and saw him as a role model, so it’s very difficult for me to accept this, but I hope that justice will be served in court and the wrong party will go and do his time.”

Oscar Pistorius and his late girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pose for a picture in Johannesburg on February 7, 2013. Photo: Reuters

The killing of Steenkamp has also raised the issue of gender-based violence in South Africa. A group from the ruling political party, the African National Congress’s Women’s League, has protested outside the Pretoria courtroom, saying violence against women needs to stop in South Africa.

“It was a planned game that he did,” said Amukelani Baloyi, another South African closely watching the Pistorius case. She told Reuters, “I doubt if I want him to be out of the prison. Because usually in South Africa, we must promote a motto to embrace our women and to respect our women as far as women and children’s rights are concerned.”

As far as Oscar Pistorius is concerned, the sensational nature of his murder case guarantees that we’ll hear his name on an everyday basis as his trial unfolds. We need to hear the name of Reeva Steenkamp, too.

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.

African Nations Cup Football Fans

Posted February 4th, 2013 at 4:11 pm (UTC-4)
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South African soccer fan
Photo: Reuters

Attendance at the 29th Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in South Africa has been disappointing, with many empty seats seen on the TV broadcasts, but a few fans have caught my eye with their face paint, colorful attire and joyous spirit.

South African fans and Nations Cup organizers were happy to see the home team advance to the Nations Cup quarterfinals. South Africa’s four matches drew crowds of between 40,000 – 50,000, and officials were hoping a good run by the team, nicknamed Bafana Bafana, would sell more tickets. Mali ended South Africa’s Nations Cup campaign, though, with a 3-1 victory on penalty kicks in the
quarterfinals.

Ghana fans cheer at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Photo: Reuters

Ghana’s national football team is nicknamed the Black Stars. If you look closely at the Ghanaian fans on the right, you’ll see a few black stars, including on their noses. As I write this, Ghana is looking forward to a semifinal match Wednesday against northern neighbor Burkina Faso.

Congolese football fans in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Photo: Reuters

The Leopards of the Democratic Republic of Congo drew with Ghana, 2-2, during group play, and the Congolese also had draws against Niger and Mali. Like a leopard, the male Congolese fan on the left has some spots, including on his arms and face.

You could say the DRC’s Nations Cup performance was spotty, while many feel Ivory Coast had a disappointing tournament.

This Ivorian fan was smiling before a

Ivory Coast football fan
Photo: AP

quarterfinal match against Nigeria, but probably not after his team lost, 2-1. Ivory Coast was a pre-tournament favorite to lift the trophy on February 10th.

No matter who wins the big prize on Sunday in Johannesburg, I’ve enjoyed watching the fans who bring their own special zeal and enthusiasm to the stadiums.

Alfred Baloyi
Photo: Darren Taylor

Alfred Baloyi likes to bring his own unique headwear when he goes to the stadiums. In 1979, Alfred invented what’s now an iconic symbol of South African football – the “makarapa,” or “hard hat,” adorned with all kinds of decorations.

My buddy Darren Taylor, who visited Baloyi at his makarapa factory in Johannesburg, says Alfred, like his invention, has come to epitomize the chaotic, colorful and decorative nature of African football.

 

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.

Nations Cup Mascot Takuma the Hippo

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 5:39 pm (UTC-4)
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Reaction to Takuma the Hippo, the official mascot of the 29th Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in South Africa, has been generally favorable, judging by my mailbag.

Dominic Esifa, writing from Katsina, Nigeria, describes Takuma as “very South African in nature.” The huge hippopotamus is found in South Africa and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. And while Takuma looks friendly, the hippo is regarded as one of the most aggressive and dangerous animals in Africa.

Kephers Gichana, writing from Kisii, Kenya, says Takuma is “a fine mascot,” while Terry Okomor in Benin City, Nigeria, says Takuma is “kind of cool.” Charles Jacob Kuria, writing from Nakuru, Kenya, says Takuma might even be responsible for the “lack of goals” in the tournament. Through the first eight matches, a total of 13 goals have been scored, an average of 1.6 per match.

Takuma was designed by Tumelo Nkoana, an elementary school student in Hammanskraal, a small town in South Africa’s northern province of Gauteng. Officials like Tumelo’s design so much they say after the Nations Cup, Takuma will become the mascot for all South African sports.

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.

Ethiopia Returns to Nations Cup After 31-Year Absence

Posted January 9th, 2013 at 8:22 pm (UTC-4)
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Ethiopian football fans are excited to see their national team return to the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in South Africa after a 31-year absence. The Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia are in Group C for the African football fiesta, along with Nigeria, Burkina Faso and defending Nations Cup champion Zambia.

Ethiopia will play Zambia January 21st in its opening match in South Africa’s northeastern city of Nelspruit. According to Ethiopia’s captain, defender Degu Debebe, his team has been inspired by the Zambians.

Degu Debebe

“We have seen how the Zambian team performed at the last AFCON,” said Degu. “No one expected them to beat the big countries and take the Cup. But they did. That is because they were playing as a team and they didn’t overestimate any team. They played their part and they gave their best. That is the secret. If you believe you can do something and give your best, nothing is impossible. Everything is possible. We can learn a lesson from them and make possible what seems impossible.”

It’s not impossible for Ethiopia to advance out of Group C, but it’s unlikely. Top African football analysts, including Sonny Side of Sports African soccer guru David Legge, are going with Nigeria and Zambia to reach the quarterfinals.

Coach Sewnet Bishaw

Ethiopia’s head coach, Sewnet Bishaw, realizes his players will be experiencing the Nations Cup spotlight for the first time, and he’s been trying to boost their confidence. “We have qualified after 31 years and our players are new at AFCON,” says the Ethiopian coach. “They are not new at the game, they are not new professional players, but they are new for the competition itself … But by playing different friendly matches I am sure we will make their psychology up.”

Ethiopia can get one psychological boost from being a Nations Cup pioneer. The team played at the inaugural Africa Cup of Nations in 1957, along with Egypt and host Sudan. Ethiopia won its only Nations Cup championship in 1962, when it hosted the tournament.

 

 

 

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.

Nigeria Prepares For Nations Cup

Posted January 3rd, 2013 at 5:33 pm (UTC-4)
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Nigeria’s Super Eagles are hoping to soar at the 29th Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, which kicks off January 19th in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Super Eagles are based in South Africa’s northeastern city of Nelspruit for their first two Nations Cup matches. They will play Burkina Faso January 21st and defending Nations Cup champion Zambia January 25th, and then wrap up first round group play January 29th against Ethiopia in Rustenberg, South Africa.

African football analyst David Legge says the Nigeria-Zambia encounter will likely decide the Group C winner. He believes both teams will go through to the quarterfinals. “I don’t know anybody who is not going to select the Super Eagles and the Chipolopolo of Zambia for the final eight,” says Legge. “Nigeria-Zambia is a big match because the group winner will probably avoid Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.”

Nigeria defeated Zambia, 2-1, in the final of the 1994 Nations Cup in Tunisia, and then reached the Round of 16 at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. The captain

Stephen Keshi

of Nigeria’s World Cup squad was Stephen Keshi, who now hopes to bring more glory to the team as head coach of the Super Eagles. Keshi is well aware that triumph in Tunisia was Nigeria’s second and last Nations Cup title, and success in South Africa could go a long way in boosting the spirits of Nigeria’s many football fans.

Nigeria did not qualify for last year’s Africa Cup of Nations, which was co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. It was a bitter blow for Africa’s most populous country, which also failed to win a single medal at the 2012 London Olympics. For both the Olympics and the Nations Cup, sports analysts blamed poor preparations.

Keshi has already pointed out problems in Nigeria’s preparations for South Africa 2013. The Super Eagles did some of their pre-tournament training in Abuja, Nigeria’s political capital, and Keshi harshly criticized the field. “The pitch is terrible,” said Keshi, “and nothing to write home about. It is hard and it is not good for us … some of my players are having leg pains and all this stuff because the field is hard.”

The fields are expected to be softer and in better condition in South Africa, and if Keshi can rally his troops and lift the trophy on February 10th in Johannesburg, that will surely soothe any leg pains and cause Super Eagles fans to rejoice.

 

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.

A Magnificent Year for Lionel Messi

Posted December 13th, 2012 at 3:02 pm (UTC-4)
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It’s been a magnificent year for Lionel Messi, the Barcelona and Argentina star who is a favorite to win his fourth FIFA Ballon d’Or award on January 7, 2013, a trophy given annually to the world’s best football player.

Messi scored both of Barcelona’s goals December 12 in a 2-0 road victory against Cordoba in the Copa del Rey tournament, an annual competition for Spanish

Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona

clubs.

It raised his total for the year to a record 88 goals. On December 9, Messi scored twice against Real Betis to break Gerd Mueller’s record of 85 goals in a year for club and country, set in 1972.

The 67-year-old Mueller, nicknamed Der Bomber  for his prolific goalscoring during his playing days, paid tribute to Messi: “My record stood for 40 years – 85 goals in 60 games – and now the best player in the world has broken it, and I’m delighted for him. He is an incredible player, gigantic.”

This gigantic and incredible year has been pulled off by a 1.69 meter tall (5 ft. 7 in.) superstar who was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency as a boy. Barcelona, aware of his prodigious talent, paid for his medical bills, a fact highlighted in this funny, animated video.
At the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Messi did not score a single goal, but he created multiple chances for teammates and, in the words of one World Cup blogger, was “desperately unlucky” in not finding the net. Argentina advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Germany, 4-0.

Messi and Argentina will have a short trip to neighboring Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, and I expect he’ll feel right at home on the world’s biggest football stage. Argentina, currently third in the FIFA world rankings behind Germany and #1 Spain, has to be considered a favorite for the title, so I won’t rule out Lionel Messi lifting that elusive World Cup trophy and sealing his status as the world’s greatest footballer.

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.

IAAF Female World Athlete of the Year Allyson Felix

Posted November 28th, 2012 at 5:01 pm (UTC-4)
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Allyson Felix at Urunchinga refugee camp in Uganda

Olympic champion Allyson Felix celebrated her 27th birthday on November 18th in Uganda, where she visited and played with children at Urunchinga refugee camp. She described her trip to east Africa, which also included a safari at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, as a wonderful experience.

From Africa, the American sprinter traveled to Spain for another wonderful experience. For the first time in her very successful track career, Felix was named the IAAF Female World Athlete of the Year. “I’m grateful for the journey,” said Felix, “and I’m humbled to win the award.”

Her journey to the top of world athletics came after a spectacular performance at this year’s London Olympics. Felix won three gold medals – at 200 meters and as a member of the USA’s victorious 4 x 100 meter and 4 x 400 meter women’s relay teams.

Allyson Felix shows off her three Olympic gold medals on top of the Empire State Building in New York

The 4 x 100 meter squad, which also included Bianca Knight, Carmelita Jeter and Tianna Madison, set a world record at the Olympic Stadium in London, clocking 40.82 seconds. The four American athletes earned the Female Performance of the Year award at the IAAF awards ceremony in Spain.

Even before London 2012, though, Felix sprinted to Olympic success. She won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and a gold and silver at the 2008 Beijing Games. At the world championship level, Felix has won eight golds, a silver and a bronze. Even with so many international victories, some track analysts feel she is underappreciated by the American sporting public.

Allyson Felix celebrates with the American flag at the Olympic stadium in London

Parker Morse, Senior Writer at Running Times Magazine, says he “doesn’t know why she’s not the most famous female athlete in the country. She has a great attitude, great ethic and great performances. I’ve never met anyone with anything bad to say about her.”

Felix was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and she has clearly been inspired by her parents. Her father, Paul, is an ordained minister and her mother, Marlean, is an elementary school teacher.

She has described her speed as an amazing gift from God and both parents were proud when their daughter graduated from the University of Southern California in 2008 with a degree in elementary education. So, she might decide to follow in her mother’s footsteps and teach children when her athletic career is over. Judging by her smile with the African children at the top of this page, Allyson Felix will be as comfortable in the classroom as she is on the track.

 

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.

Thanksgiving Day Turkey Chase

Posted November 20th, 2012 at 2:39 pm (UTC-4)
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Sports and the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA go together like turkey and Aunt Maureen’s homemade stuffing. American football kicks off on Thanksgiving Day. Many fans will watch games on television, while others, like my nephew Wade, build up an appetite for Maureen’s Thanksgiving feast with football games at a nearby field.

I’ll be building up my appetite with a 10-kilometer run around my neighborhood. The 30th annual Turkey Chase is one of many road races held in American cities on Thanksgiving morning. These events are often fundraisers for organizations or charitable causes. My race raises money for the

Turkey Chase 1983 T-Shirt

local YMCA.

My neighbor Rachel says her knees hurt when she runs, so she plans to walk a two mile Turkey Chase course on Thanksgiving morning. Rachel also admits she’s looking forward to trying on the official Turkey Chase T-shirt given to all participants. It reminds me of a line from the late Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon: “Never underestimate the power of a T-shirt.”

Runners at the start of the 2010 Turkey Chase

Rachel also says the healthy nature of the event appeals to her, which brings to mind a Thanksgiving message from another late sportsman, Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden: “So often we fail to acknowledge what we have because we’re so concerned about what we want. We fail to give real thanks for the many blessings for which we did nothing: our life itself, the flowers, the trees, our family and friends. This moment. All of our blessings we take for granted so much of the time.”

I used to take running for granted, but after knee surgery in 2007, I don’t anymore. So on Thanksgiving morning, when I’m at the starting line, I’ll say a little prayer to the God of my understanding: “Thank you for my health.” “Thank you for letting me run again.”

 

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.

2012 African Footballer of the Year

Posted November 6th, 2012 at 3:24 pm (UTC-4)
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The Confederation of African Football, CAF, will hold its annual awards ceremony December 20th in Accra, Ghana. The biggest prize to be handed out in the Ghanaian capital is the African Player of the Year, and if recent history is any indicator, there’s a good chance the trophy will be lifted by a striker. Nine of the past 10 winners have been strikers, with the only exception 2011 African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure, the rugged and powerful midfielder for Manchester City and Ivory Coast.

2011 African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure

Toure is again a top contender for the 2012 award. African football analyst David Legge says the Ivorian has been very consistent for Man City and he was a key factor in helping the club win its first English Premiership title in 44 years.

Legge’s three other picks for the award are all strikers – Demba Ba of Senegal, Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast and Christopher Katongo of reigning African champion Zambia. Ba is based in England with Newcastle United, while

Zambian captain Christopher Katongo

Drogba and Katongo are currently with the Chinese clubs Shanghai Shenhua and Henan Construction, respectively.

Drogba was named the African Footballer of the Year in 2006 and in 2009 and he was recently picked by Chelsea fans as the club’s greatest ever player. “For part of this year, Drogba was playing for Chelsea,” says Legge, “and it was his penalty kick that gave Chelsea at long last the UEFA Champions League title.” Katongo captained the Zambian team that won its first ever African title earlier this year in Libreville, Gabon, a championship that Legge describes as “the story of African football in 2012.” And Ba, according to Legge, “has been banging in the goals for Newcastle United.”

Banging in the goals does seem to capture the attention of the head coaches and top officials from CAF member associations whose votes will decide the winner of the 2012 African Footballer of the Year award. We have to go back to 1986, when Moroccan goalkeeper Badou Zaki won the prize, to find a defender who won the much coveted honor.

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.

The MCM and Remembering the Oprah Marathon

Posted October 26th, 2012 at 4:39 pm (UTC-4)
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As many as 30,000 runners are expected to test their endurance in Sunday’s 37th annual Marine Corps Marathon here in the Washington area. The popular race, nicknamed “The People’s Marathon,” takes the runners past many of Washington’s landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and United States Capitol building, as well as our Voice of America headquarters on Independence Avenue.

United States Marine Corps War Memorial

One of the most challenging sections of the marathon, which offers no prize money, is the uphill finish to the United States Marine Corps War Memorial. There, if an athlete can cross the line, they can look forward to a finisher’s medal being placed around their neck by a U.S. Marine.

My first Marine Corps Marathon in 1987 ended in disappointment. I did not put in enough training miles and I dropped out about Mile 20, cold, shivering and dehydrated. As I walked to an aid tent, a spectator said to me, “C’mon, you only have six miles to go!” It might as well have been 60 miles at that point. I was so demoralized I thought I would never run another marathon.

Jeff Reed

But I didn’t stop running. My younger brother, Ralph, and I joined a local running group, the Mid-Atlantic Dead Runners Society, and that helped inject both of us with new enthusiasm for training runs. I even wrote a poem about one of the running group’s more colorful members, Jeff “T-Bone” Reed.

In 1994, I was ready to give the Marine Corps Marathon another shot. My return coincided with popular talk show host Oprah Winfrey deciding to celebrate her 40th birthday by running the same marathon, her one and only attempt at the classic 26.2 mile distance.

Oprah Winfrey runs in 1994 Marine Corps Marathon

Oprah had a wet celebration. As I write this, Hurricane Sandy is heading towards the East Coast of the United States, and rain is forecast for Sunday’s race. It rained throughout the ’94 edition, which for me and Oprah, meant almost four-and-a-half hours of slogging through wet streets. My socks and running shoes were soaked completely through and felt so heavy at the end. I had to tip my pink running cap to the more prepared and experienced runners who had a friend or loved one give them a pair of dry shoes to put on at roughly the halfway point.

Ralph and Sonny after 1994 Marine Corps Marathon

I also saw more than a few runners wearing “Beat Oprah” T-shirts. She crossed the finish line in just over 4:29 and I came in at about 4:24. I have to give her credit for staying the course in less than optimal running conditions. Ralph finished almost 45 minutes ahead of me and Oprah. At the end, we were all soaking wet, but happy.

One of my favorite Greeks, Dean Scontras, who ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011, says his ancestors “believed the athletic experience was a step toward greater understanding of self. The training in the elements, at all hours of the day, reminds us that the human spirit is stronger than any physical limitation.” I believe my human spirit was renewed in the rain 18 years ago, and I believe we all deserve second chances.

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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