Basketball Stars Nash, Bryant and Russell Get World Cup Kicks

Posted May 26th, 2010 at 5:46 pm (UTC-4)
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Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell recently attended a USA World Cup team practice at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.  Russell helped the Boston Celtics win 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons from 1956-1969.  The 76-year-old Russell is not the only basketball great getting some kicks from World Cup soccer.

Two future members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns and Kobe Bryant of the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, are both big football fans, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see one or both players in South Africa during the World Cup.

As I write this, Nash and Bryant are currently playing against each other in the NBA Western Conference finals.  If Nash decides to go to South Africa, it would be a homecoming of sorts.  He was born in Johannesburg, where the World Cup’s opening match and final will be held.  Nash describes himself as a passionate supporter of Tottenham in the English Premier League, and he’s expressed interest in owning a piece of the club.  His father, John, and brother, Martin, have both played professional soccer, and Nash has said he thinks he could have played professional football if he had focused on the sport.

For his part, Kobe Bryant was introduced to soccer as a young boy growing up in Italy, where his father played professional basketball.  Kobe says one of his boyhood dreams was playing for the Italian club AC Milan.  In recent years, Kobe has also shown support for the Spanish club Barcelona, and the Lakers star currently appears in a new Nike TV commercial promoting the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

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.

Will Altitude Be Factor At World Cup?

Posted May 24th, 2010 at 6:26 pm (UTC-4)
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Defending champion Italy opened its World Cup training camp Sunday at the ski resort of Sestriere, which is located at an elevation of about 1,980 meters.

England and 1998 World Cup champion France are also holding training camps at altitude, while the Asian teams Japan and South Korea are considering tents and masks that simulate altitude conditions.

Matches at seven of the 10 World Cup stadiums in South Africa will be played at elevations ranging from 660 meters in Nelspruit to more than 1,600 meters in Johannesburg.

While there haven’t been many studies on the effects of altitude on football teams, it typically takes an adjustment period to get used to playing at altitude.  The USA team is scheduled to arrive at its World Cup base camp, located at about 1,450 meters between Johannesburg and Pretoria, on 31 May.  That will give the Americans nearly two weeks to acclimate to the altitude before their first World Cup match against England on 12 June in Rustenburg, South Africa.

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.

World Cup Spotlight on USA’s Jozy Altidore

Posted May 23rd, 2010 at 10:53 pm (UTC-4)
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A recent Sports Illustrated article on American striker Jozy Altidore described him as the USA’s “biggest goal-scoring threat” at next month’s World Cup in South Africa.  The 20-year-old Altidore earned that description even though he probably will be the youngest player on the USA’s World Cup team.  Altidore has played with the USA national team at the three main age levels – U-17, U-20 and U-23.

On 17 November 2007, 11 days after his 18th birthday, Altidore made his first international appearance for the USA’s senior national team in a friendly match against 2010 World Cup host South Africa.  He was a key player for the Americans during their World Cup qualifying campaign, with his most prolific performance coming last year in the southern U.S. city of Nashville, Tennessee.  Altidore scored all three goals for the USA in a 3-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago, making him the youngest American to score a hat-trick in an international match.  Overall, Altidore has scored eight international goals for the USA senior team.  One of them came during the USA’s 2-0 upset of European champion Spain at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup tournament in South Africa.

Jozy Altidore would like nothing better than to score a few more goals in South Africa during the World Cup.  He says the surprise showing of the USA at last year’s Confederations Cup tournament, in which the Americans reached the final before losing to Brazil, should help the team when it returns to South Africa for the World Cup.

In that same Sports Illustrated article, it mentioned that Altidore will be part of a USA team in which half or more of the players have at least one parent who immigrated to the United States.  While Jozy was born in New Jersey and raised in Florida, both of his parents are from Haiti.  And, since the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January, Altidore has been active in relief efforts for the island nation.  He also sometimes pays tribute to his Haitian heritage by wearing a wristband with both the flags of Haiti and the USA during matches.

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.

Bidens to represent USA at World Cup

Posted May 21st, 2010 at 4:09 pm (UTC-4)
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Here in Washington, the White House says Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will represent the USA at the football World Cup’s opening ceremonies 11 June in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The announcement appears to rule out the possibility of President Barack Obama attending the World Cup.  Last year, during a meeting with world football chief Sepp Blatter at the White House, Mr. Obama said he hoped to be able to go to South Africa for the football fiesta.

Mr. and Mrs. Biden are also planning to attend the USA’ s opening World Cup match against England on 12 June at the Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa.

Vice President Biden is an avid sports fan.  In high school, he was a top halfback and wide receiver in American-style football at Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware.  Mr. Biden also played football at the University of Delaware.

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 “King” Richard Kotey, VOA’s “Gallant Ghanaian”

Posted May 20th, 2010 at 5:01 pm (UTC-4)
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I’ll be celebrating my 22nd VOA anniversary in South Africa next month during the World Cup.  When you work at any place that long, chances are, you’re going to meet a few interesting people.

As I look forward to the World Cup, I’m a little sad that I can’t share some of the World Cup excitement with VOA’s late, great “Gallant Ghanaian,” “King”Richard Kotey.  Richard died in 2003 due to complications from a stroke.

Richard and I sat right across from each other in our office, and when he was especially happy, he would break out into song.  And let me tell you, sports fans, Richard had a booming voice.  Richard often sang fight songs about his beloved “Black Stars” of Ghana, the country’s national football team.

“The Black Stars” made their World Cup debut at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where they were the only African team to reach the second round.  “The Black Stars” have high hopes of going even farther in South Africa.  “King”Richard Kotey did not get to see Ghana qualify for either World Cup.  But, I know Richard’s spirit lives on, and when Ghana is on the pitch in South Africa, I’ll be saying three words, “GO BLACK STARS!”

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.

Princeton Homecoming for USA Coach Bob Bradley

Posted May 19th, 2010 at 6:31 pm (UTC-4)
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U.S. men’s national soccer team coach Bob Bradley is leading a pre-World Cup training camp this week at Princeton University in New Jersey.  It’s a homecoming for the 52-year-old Bradley, who was born and raised in New Jersey, and who previously played soccer and coached the men’s team at Princeton.

U.S. team press officer Michael Kammarman told VOA that Princeton is a great venue and was an easy choice for the training camp because it’s Coach Bradley’s alma mater.

Bradley was only 22-years-old when he began his coaching career at Ohio University.  He then moved on the University of Virginia and then coached at Princeton.  Bradley led “The Tigers” of Princeton from 1984 to 1995, before going on to coach in Major League Soccer and the USA’s national team program.

Coach Bradley comes from a family of athletes.  His brother Scott played for Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners club and is the current baseball coach at Princeton.  And his son, Michael, was also born in Princeton and is a top midfielder for the USA’s World Cup 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.

High-Five for World Cup Mascot Zakumi

Posted May 17th, 2010 at 4:21 pm (UTC-4)
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Keen viewers of my “In Focus” TV segments filmed at my VOA cubicle will notice a trusty back-drop in many of the shoots – his name is “Footix,” and he was the official mascot of the 1998 World Cup in France.  “Footix” is a rooster, one of the national symbols of France.

World Cup mascots usually show a characteristic feature of the host country.  One of my objectives during my first trip to South Africa in June is to give a high-five to Zakumi, the official mascot of the 2010 World Cup.

Zakumi is a leopard, a common animal found in South Africa, and his green and gold colors represent the national colors of South Africa’s national sports teams.  A high-five for you, Zakumi!

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.

Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie gets his World Cup kicks

Posted May 14th, 2010 at 3:31 pm (UTC-4)
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Ethiopian athletics great Haile Gebrselassie was one of the celebrities who attended the FIFA World Cup draw in December 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa.  Haile took the stage in Cape Town with other big names like England soccer star David Beckham and South African actress Charlize Theron.

Seeing Haile on stage in Cape Town reminded me of one of my great sporting thrills.  In 2001, the Voice of America sent me to Edmonton, Canada, to cover the IAAF World Championships in Athletics.  As luck would have it, a special 800-meter “media race” was held in Edmonton, and I decided to test my speed.

While I didn’t set any records, I did get a chance to meet Haile Gebrselassie, who attended the race as a special VIP.  I guess you might say it’s the only time I’ve been able to catch up with speedy Haile, the world record holder in 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.

World Cup Comeback By Charlie Davies Falls Short

Posted May 13th, 2010 at 2:08 pm (UTC-4)
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Here’s a Sonny Side of Sports salute for Charlie Davies, a 23-year-old American striker who made an inspirational comeback in a bid to play at the World Cup in South Africa.  Before a terrible car crash in October 2009, Davies was considered a top candidate for the USA’s 2010 World Cup team.  He excelled at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup tournament in South Africa, and during the USA’s World Cup qualifying campaign, becoming one of the top scoring threats for the Americans.

But, a day before a World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., Davies was a passenger in a vehicle that crashed on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, just outside the nation’s capital.  A second passenger died in the crash.  Davies suffered numerous injuries, including a broken right femur, tibia and fibula, as well as a dislocated elbow and lacerated bladder.

Davies made remarkable progress in his rehabilitation, and resumed training with his French club Sochaux in April.  USA head coach Bob Bradley said Davies showed incredible heart and determination during his recovery, but in the end, he decided not to include him on his World Cup roster.

On his Twitter page, Davies wrote:  “It was a very sad day for me (not to be included on the USA World Cup team) … I will be back stronger than ever.”  Here’s hoping we’ll see Charlie Davies on the 2014 USA World Cup 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.

World Cup Spotlight on Didier Drogba

Posted May 12th, 2010 at 3:00 pm (UTC-4)
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Didier Drogba

Two American magazines are featuring Chelsea and Ivory Coast football star Didier Drogba ahead of next month’s World Cup in South Africa. Time magazine has named the 32-year-old Drogba one of its 100 Most Influential People. And, Vanity Fair magazine has Drogba on its cover for June, along with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Drogba is the reigning African Footballer of the Year and he recently completed an outstanding season for Chelsea. The muscular Ivorian helped lead Chelsea to its third English Premier League title in six years. He won the league’s Golden Boot award, scoring 29 goals for the season.

Drogba and “The Elephants” of Ivory Coast are in Group G at the World Cup, along with North Korea, Brazil, and five-time World Cup champion Brazil. Ivory Coast will play its first World Cup match 15 June against Portugal at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

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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