Africa’s Olympic Football Hopes

Posted November 29th, 2011 at 3:10 pm (UTC-4)
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While an African football team has never won the World Cup, the sport’s biggest prize, neighbors Nigeria and Cameroon can proudly claim Olympic gold medals in men’s soccer at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Nwankwo Kanu

The 1996 Nigerian Olympic team, captained by two-time African Footballer of the Year Nwanko Kanu, defeated Argentina, 3-2, in the final. Argentina, winner of the past two Olympic football titles, gained some revenge by beating Nigeria, 1-0, on a goal by Angel Di Maria in the 58th minute of the 2008 final in Beijing, China.

Millions of Nigerian soccer fans would love to see their team get another shot at an Olympic gold medal next year in London, but first the squad has to qualify. The inaugural African Under-23 Championship is currently taking place in Morocco. The eight-team competition is doubling as a qualifying event for the London Games.

The top-three African teams in Morocco will advance to the 2012 Olympics, while the fourth-place finisher goes into a playoff against an Asian side. In addition to Nigeria, the seven other teams competing are Algeria, Egypt, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, South Africa and host Morocco. The semifinals are scheduled for December 6 and December 7, and the final on December 10 in Marrakech, Morocco.

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.

Demba Ba Bagging Goals For Newcastle United

Posted November 22nd, 2011 at 8:10 pm (UTC-4)
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One African footballer who is off to an excellent start this season in the English Premier League is 26-year-old Senegalese striker Demba Ba of Newcastle United.

Through 12 league matches, Ba has bagged eight goals for the Magpies of Newcastle, the most by any African player. Ba scored his first goals for the club on September 24, 2011, when he recorded a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers in a 3-1 victory. Ba got another hat-trick in a 3-1 road victory over Stoke City.

With Demba Ba delivering goals, Newcastle is currently in fourth position after 12 matches. “I think a lot of people are surprised about what we’re doing,” says Ba. “When I signed here and saw the quality of the players we have, I’m not really surprised by how we’re playing.” Ba signed a three-year contract with Newcastle United on June 17, 2011. Last season, he was the leading scorer for West Ham United, another English club, with seven goals in 12 matches.

We could also see Demba Ba scoring goals for Senegal at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, which will be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The Lions of Teranga from Senegal are bidding for their first Nations Cup crown. Their best showing came at the 2002 tournament in Mali, where they lost in the final to Cameroon. That same year, the Senegalese advanced to the quarterfinals at the World Cup, which was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.

“I think this team has a great future ahead of her,” says Ba. “Senegal has many young talented players and can build a bright future and win a lot of titles. I would be very proud to bring the Africa Cup home to Senegal.”

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.

Liberia’s Darlington Nagbe Wins MLS Goal Of The Year Award

Posted November 20th, 2011 at 8:22 pm (UTC-4)
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Darlington Nagbe recently capped his first season in Major League Soccer by winning the MLS Goal of the Year prize. The 21-year-old Nagbe plays for the Portland Timbers and he is the son of Joe Nagbe, the former captain of Liberia’s national football team. Let’s check out the award-winning strike by the young Liberian player.

Darlington Nagbe’s father, Joe, made 97 international appearances for Liberia’s national team, “The Lone Star.” He also had an extensive club career that included stops in France, Greece and Switzerland. Darlington says his father was excited about the award and described it as one of the best goals he’s ever seen.

Darlington Nagbe’s “Goal of the Year” was one of two goals he scored in 28 appearances for the Timbers. Before joining Portland, Darlington played college soccer at the University of Akron in Ohio, and last year helped lead the school to its first ever national championship. Also in 2010, he won the Hermann Trophy as the U.S. men’s college soccer Player of the Year.

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.

Spectacular Year For Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai

Posted November 14th, 2011 at 8:53 pm (UTC-4)
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Geoffrey Mutai

I’m disappointed the Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai didn’t receive more consideration for the IAAF World Male Athlete of the Year award, which, for the third time in four years, was presented to Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt November 12th.

In Spain March 20th, Mutai was part of the Kenyan men’s squad that won a team gold medal at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

Less than a month later, Mutai traveled to Boston, where he ran the fastest marathon in history, clocking a blistering 2:03:02. However, because of Boston’s point-to-point and net downhill course, it was not recognized as a world record.

Still, Mutai’s run in Boston was a staggering achievement, and it deserves a look back now in these video highlights:

On November 6, running on a more difficult course in New York, Mutai showed his performance in Boston was no fluke by winning in 2:05:05. He broke the course record set by Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia in 2001 by more than two-and-a-half minutes. Mutai’s triumph also made him the first person to win the Boston and New York Marathons in the same year.

What does 2012 hold for Geoffrey Mutai? He would love to run for Kenya in the Olympics in London, but his country’s depth at the classic 42-kilometer distance is so great this year there are no guarantees he will be one of the three men selected for the marathon.

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.

Harrison Barnes Aims For Big College Basketball Season

Posted November 11th, 2011 at 5:37 pm (UTC-4)
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ESPN and Sports Illustrated magazines both recently published U.S. college basketball preview issues, and both put North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes on their cover.

The 19-year-old from Ames, Iowa, is expected to be the centerpiece for a North Carolina team that is rated a strong contender to win its sixth national championship.

Last year, the 2.03 meters tall (6’8″) Barnes became the first freshman ever named a preseason first-team All-America. The high expectations negatively affected his play during his first few months with “The Tar Heels” of North Carolina, and Barnes struggled with his shot.

But by the end of the season, Barnes became much more confident on the court, averaging nearly 16 points and six rebounds a game, and he led “The Tar Heels” to the final eight in the NCAA championship tournament.

“Between the beginning and end of last year there were a lot of inconsistencies,” Barnes told ESPN. “Playing at the level where I finished, for a whole year, that’s what I’d like to shoot for.”

Some basketball analysts thought Barnes would be shooting for a professional career this season, opting for the National Basketball Association, like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and other college stars did after their freshman seasons. But with the NBA still embroiled in a labor dispute between owners and players, Barnes’s decision to return to North Carolina is looking like a smart one.

Perhaps his biggest fan is his mother, Shirley, who cheered for basketball great Michael Jordan during his playing days. Her son’s full name is even a tribute to Jordan: Harrison Bryce Jordan Barnes. In 1982, Jordan clinched North Carolina’s second national title with a dramatic jump shot in the closing seconds against Georgetown.

In 2012, 30 years after Jordan’s heroics, Harrison Barnes would like nothing better than to follow in the footsteps of his mother’s idol and help raise another championship banner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Then, like Jordan, I think we can look for Barnes to launch his own NBA career.

 

 

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.

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.

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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