A Magnificent Year for Lionel Messi

Posted December 13th, 2012 at 3:02 pm (UTC-4)

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


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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

Boxing in Ghana

Posted October 19th, 2012 at 5:29 pm (UTC-4)

Azumah Nelson

Ghana has produced some of Africa’s greatest boxers, including former world champions Azumah “The Professor” Nelson, Ike “Bazooka” Quartey and Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko. The 54-year-old Nelson, who had his last professional fight in 2008, is regarded as the patriarch of Ghana boxing. The former WBC featherweight and super featherweight champion learned to box in the capital, Accra, which is still a hotbed for up-and-coming Ghanaian fighters.

There are about 16 boxing gyms in Accra’s central neighborhoods of Jamestown and Bukom. It’s where boys as young as five get their start in “the sweet science.” Most of the gyms, as you can see in this punchy video package, are Spartan and have basic equipment like wooden planks and old metal chair frames.

I mention in the video how young Ghanaian fighters are now following in the footsteps of Azumah Nelson, hoping to fulfill their own boxing dreams.

Sonny and Barry Maughan

I remember how 20 years ago, my longtime Voice of America colleague Barry Maughan followed Nelson’s footsteps to Melbourne, Australia, where The Professor turned in one of his greatest performances. Barry was ringside when Nelson fought longtime Australian rival Jeff Fenech in front of a wildly partisan Aussie crowd at Princes Park in Melbourne. The Ghanaian warrior stopped Fenech with an 8th round TKO to retain his WBC super featherweight title.

It’s tough for champion fighters to hang up their gloves for good, though, and this was proven 16 years later when Nelson and Fenech, both well past their prime, met in a rematch in Melbourne, where Fenech won a majority decision.

Azumah Nelson’s legacy, though, is not that 2008 loss to Fenech. It’s the smile and world title belt slung over his left shoulder at the top of this page.  The ring success by Nelson, Quartey and Agbeko continues to inspire a new generation of Ghanaian fighters.

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.

Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks in Uncharted African Football Waters

Posted October 17th, 2012 at 11:27 am (UTC-4)
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The Blue Sharks from the Cape Verde Islands used to be known as one of the minnows in African football. Ten years ago, Cape Verde was rated one of the weakest African teams by FIFA, world football’s governing body. In October 2002, FIFA had the Blue Sharks ranked 41st out of 52 African teams, and 155 overall. But thanks to an ambitious program to find top talent with ties to the small, Portuguese-speaking island archipelago, Cape Verde has made dramatic strides over the past decade.

In this month’s FIFA rankings, Cape Verde is ranked 10th among African teams, and 51st overall. The Blue Sharks recently eliminated four-time champion Cameroon, 3-2 on aggregate over two legs, in one of the biggest upsets in African Nations Cup qualifying history. As a result, Cape Verde is headed to South Africa in January to make its first ever appearance in African football’s premier event. With a population of 500,000, Cape Verde will also become the smallest country to compete at the Nations Cup finals.

In an interview with Reuters, Cape Verde’s head coach Lucio Antunes said, “We now have about 90% of our squad members who are playing at clubs in Europe, in Portugal, France, Spain, Holland and other countries. These are professional players who are desperate to show what they can do at the Nations Cup finals.”

Ryan Mendes

Ryan Mendes is one of the Europe-based professionals who has shown what he can do during the Nations Cup qualifying campaign. The 22-year-old striker, who plays for Lille in the French league, has led the attack for the Blue Sharks with three goals, tying him with eight other players as top goalscorer in 2013 Nations Cup qualifying. Mendes has played for Cape Verde at the U-16 and U-21 youth levels. The Blue Sharks also feature several other young players, with most based in Portugal, the country Cape Verde won independence from in 1975.



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.

Soccer Surge Towards South Africa 2013

Posted October 9th, 2012 at 3:44 pm (UTC-4)
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The final soccer surge towards South Africa 2013 takes place this coming weekend when the last 15 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches are played across the continent. From Calabar to Kampala, from Luanda to Lilongwe, from Malabo to Marrakech, teams are vying for a place in Africa’s premier football tournament, which kicks off January 19th.

The winners of the 15 home-and-away ties will join South Africa, which earned an automatic berth as host of the African football jamboree.

Zambian players celebrate their Nations Cup championship in February.

In Kampala, African champion Zambia faces a dicey encounter against host Uganda. The Chipolopolo of Zambia, only eight months removed from their first African title, will try to protect a 1-0 advantage from the first leg last month. African football analyst David Legge says this should be a tense and exciting match, and his hunch is Zambia will go through to defend its trophy in South Africa.

Dieumerci Mbokani of the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the joint top scorers in 2013 Nations Cup qualifying with three goals. Mbokani is currently based in Belgium with the club Anderlecht.

Legge says Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo are “the bankers” to advance to South Africa 2013. Both teams have big leads going into their road matches. Mali is up 3-0 against Botswana, which made its Nations Cup debut earlier this year. The DRC, meanwhile, has a commanding 4-0 advantage against 2012 Nations Cup co-host Equatorial Guinea.

In Ouagadougou, 1998 Nations Cup host Burkina Faso is at home against Central African Republic. Legge reserves special praise for CAR, which has a 1-0 lead as it aims for its first Nations Cup appearance. He says Central African Republic pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Nations Cup qualifying when it eliminated seven-time African champion Egypt (4-3 on aggregate) in the first round. Legge says CAR has “a 50-50 chance” of making it to South Africa in January.



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.

Makau Aims For New Marathon Mark In Germany

Posted October 4th, 2012 at 5:07 pm (UTC-4)

Marathon world record holder Patrick Makau.

A little more than one year ago, I wrote how Patrick Makau had reason to smile after he set a new marathon world record, clocking 2:03:38 in Berlin, Germany. While the Kenyan is still the world record holder, his spirit and confidence have been tested in 2012, a year that so far has been marked more by disappointment than success.

In April, the 27-year-old Makau dropped out of the London Marathon at about the halfway mark with a hamstring problem. Just a few days later, Kenya announced its

Makau during his world record run in Berlin in 2011.

Olympic marathon team, and Makau, to the surprise of many, was not included. His performance in the London Marathon probably cost him a shot at competing again in the British capital during the Olympics. Had Makau won the race or finished among the top-three, I think he would have run at the Olympics.

Patrick Makau shows off his world record time during a promotional appearance in Frankfurt.

Makau now has his sights set on a return trip to Germany, where he will run the BMW Frankfurt Marathon October 28th. Like Berlin, the Frankfurt course is flat and fast, and Makau would like nothing better than to lower his world record. Last year in Frankfurt, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang came within four seconds of Makau’s mark, setting a course record of 2:03:42.

Makau says his training for Frankfurt has gone well, and he’s been inspired recently by fellow-Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai. He says he watched on television when Mutai ran the year’s fastest time of 2:04:15 in winning the Berlin Marathon September 30th. “Having seen the Berlin race,” says Makau, “this has motivated me for Frankfurt.”




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.

Kamara Gets His Kicks For Kansas City And Sierra Leone

Posted September 23rd, 2012 at 7:47 pm (UTC-4)

Kei Kamara

The top African goalscorer in Major League Soccer this season is Kei Kamara, a 28-year-old striker from Sierra Leone who in 29 matches has scored 11 goals for Sporting Kansas City. With Kamara leading the attack, Kansas City currently leads the Eastern Conference in MLS and is a top contender for the trophy in the upcoming league playoffs.

Kamara was born and raised in Kenema, Sierra Leone’s third largest city, and he traveled to the United States as a teenager to escape the civil war in his homeland. He eventually settled with relatives in the Los Angeles area. Kamara’s turbulent childhood and dangerous journey is the subject of a documentary, titled simply “Kei.”

The documentary also takes a look at Kamara’s return to Sierra Leone for an African Nations Cup qualifying match. He scored his first two international goals for Sierra Leone’s national team, nicknamed The Leone Stars, in a 4-2 victory over Sao Tome and Principe in a 2013 Nations Cup qualifier on June 16th, 2012.

Kamara says soccer is worshiped in Sierra Leone, a country that’s bidding for its third appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations, the continent’s premier football tournament. Earlier this month, Sierra Leone drew 2-2 with visiting Tunisia in Freetown. The teams will meet again October 13th in Tunisia, with the winner of the two match series advancing to the 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Kamara has become a big fan favorite for his goal celebrations and also for his humanitarian work. Last year, he was named the 2011 Sporting Kansas City Humanitarian of the Year, an award voted on by media, coaches and fellow players. Kamara has supported Schools for Salone, a charity that is helping to rebuild schools in Sierra Leone, as well as Right to Play, an organization that uses sports and games to improve the lives of children in Africa and around the world.

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.


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.

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