Ivorian Sprinter Marie-Josée Ta Lou: So Close To Being World Champion

Posted August 14th, 2017 at 5:05 pm (UTC-4)
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Marie-Josée Ta Lou wraps herself in the Ivory Coast flag after winning the silver medal in the women’s 100-meters final in London. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

Ivory Coast won two silver medals at the recent World Championships in Athletics in London, where sprinter Marie-Josée Ta Lou made her country proud in the women’s 100-meters and 200-meters finals.

In both races, though, there was also heartbreak for the 28-year-old Ta Lou, who came very close to being crowned world champion.

In the 100-meters, she equaled her personal best of 10.86 seconds, set at last year’s Rio Olympics in Brazil, but lost the gold to American Tori Bowie, who lunged at the finish line.

After the race, Ta Lou said she didn’t even expect to be among the medalists.

Five days after the women’s 100-meters final in London, Ta Lou raced again in the 200-meters final. Again, she turned in a great performance, but lost a close race.

Ta Lou set an Ivory Coast national record of 22.08 seconds, but the gold went to Dutch athlete Dafne Schippers, who successfully defended her world title with a time of 22.05 seconds.

Dafne Schippers and Marie-Josée Ta Lou hug after the women’s 200-meters final in London. Photo: Phil Noble / Reuters

Schippers and Ta Lou hugged after the exciting race, a sign of mutual respect between two world class competitors.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou grew up in a suburb of Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast. Her first love was soccer, not athletics, and she was persuaded to switch sports by an older brother.

Ivory Coast also has another top international sprinter, Murielle Ahouré, the reigning African champion in the women’s 100-meters. The 29-year-old Ahouré finished just outside the medals in London, coming in fourth in the 100-meters final.

If they can stay healthy, we could see Murielle Ahouré and Marie-Josée Ta Lou at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where they would be running for only the second Olympic track medal in Ivory Coast history.

Gabriel Tiacoh, who died of viral meningitis in 1992 at the age of 29, won his nation’s first Olympic medal, a silver, in the 400-meters at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

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.

Crawford Versus Indongo is Crossroads World Title Fight

Posted July 9th, 2017 at 2:16 pm (UTC-4)
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Nnamdi “Hollywood” Moweta

The VOA’s longtime boxing analyst Nnamdi “Hollywood” Moweta has made the short flight from his home base of Los Angeles to Las Vegas more than a few times over the years for world championship fights.

Nnamdi says he’s looking forward to traveling to a new destination next month, though. He’ll be making his first trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, where American Terence Crawford (31-0, 22 KO’s) will take on Namibian Julius “The Blue Machine” Indongo (22-0, 11 KO’s) August 19th for the undisputed world junior welterweight championship.

Nnamdi sometimes talks about “crossroads fights” on my show, and Crawford-Indongo has all the attributes of such a bout. While it will be fought at the 140 lb. junior welterweight limit, Nnamdi says both boxers are likely to move up afterwards to the more competitive welterweight (147 lbs.) class for financial reasons.

The 29-year-old Crawford is from Omaha, Nebraska, not far from Lincoln, and he’ll enjoy the support from many home fans. The 34-year-old Indongo, though, has proven he can win in the lion’s den.

The Namibian fighter traveled to Glasgow earlier this year and scored a unanimous decision victory over Scotland’s Ricky Burns to retain two of his world title belts and win another.

And on December 3, 2016, Indongo traveled to Moscow and scored a spectacular 40-second, first round knockout of Russia’s Eduard Troyanovsky.

For his quick KO of Troyanovsky, and two other impressive wins earlier in the year, Indongo was named the Sonny Side of Sports Fighter of the Year for 2016.

Crawford currently holds two world title belts and is also recognized as the world’s best junior welterweight by The Ring magazine.

Pinnacle Bank Arena

This world championship unification fight will be televised on ESPN in the USA and will be staged at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The indoor arena, which has a seating capacity of about 15,000, opened in 2013 and is the home of the University of Nebraska’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.

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 Fighting Russell Brothers Make Dad Proud

Posted May 22nd, 2017 at 3:42 pm (UTC-4)
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World Boxing Council featherweight champion Gary Russell, Jr., successfully defended his title May 20th on a memorable fight night for his family at the new MGM National Harbor just south of Washington, D.C.

The 28-year-old Russell, Jr. (28-1, 17 KO’s), scored a seventh round TKO victory against Colombian boxer Oscar Escandon (25-3, 17 KO’s).
Gary Russell, Jr., saw his two younger brothers, 24-year-old Gary Antonio Russell and 20-year-old Gary Antuanne Russell, also win their bouts at MGM National Harbor. Promoters say it’s the first time three brothers appeared on the same fight card.

Gary Antuanne, who fought in the junior welterweight class at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was making his professional debut. He knocked his opponent Joshua Ross down three times, before the referee stopped the fight in the first round.

Gary Antuanne says the brothers get energy from each other, and tips and advice from their father, Gary Russell, Sr., who trains his sons.

Gary Russell, Jr., center, celebrates with his father and brothers after successfully defending his WBC featherweight title May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

The Russell brothers live not far from the MGM National Harbor complex, and what made their victories even sweeter is they occurred on their father’s birthday.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m really happy,” said the eldest Russell. “I got three wins. Three stoppages. It’s my birthday. I’m 15 minutes from home and I can go home and relax.”

His son, Gary Russell, Jr., has fought all across the United States.

He says he didn’t want to fight at home, in front of friends and relatives, until he became a world champion.

Gary Russell, Jr., throws a jab at Oscar Escandon during their WBC featherweight title fight.
(AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

That came two years ago when he stopped Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez with a fourth-round TKO.

Looking ahead, Gary Russell, Jr., says he’d like to unify the world title belts in the featherweight division and avenge his only loss – to Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko in 2014.

Lomachenko retained his WBO super featherweight title last month by beating American Jason Sosa at MGM National Harbor, which opened in December 2016 and has already staged several world championship bouts to boost boxing in the Washington area.

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.

College Basketball’s Final Four Features International Big Men

Posted March 27th, 2017 at 4:23 pm (UTC-4)
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The 2017 NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball championship tournament, one of the most popular annual sporting events in the United States, has reached the Final Four stage with some talented international big men in the spotlight at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona.

Gonzaga will go against South Carolina in the first semifinal April 1, in a match-up of schools making their Final Four debuts. Each team features five international players on its roster. “The Bulldogs” of Gonzaga have players from Canada, Denmark, France, Japan and Poland.

Polish center Przemek Karnowski, 7’1″ and 300 lbs., is the biggest of the bunch. The senior has won 136 games during his career at Gonzaga, the most wins for any player in NCAA history, and he’s expected to be a top pick in the 2017 National Basketball Association Draft.

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. Photo: Ben Margot/Associated Press

The bearded Karnowski is also a Gonzaga fan favorite. During the team’s 83-to-59 victory over Xavier March 25th, supporters of “The Zags” could be seen in the stands in San Jose, California, wearing imitation beards in honor of the big Pole.

“The Gamecocks” of South Carolina have players from Australia, Canada, Estonia, Gabon and Senegal.

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin talks with his Gabonese forward Chris Silva during a game. Photo: Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Gabonese forward Chris Silva, a 6’9″ sophomore, and the Estonian Maik Kotsar, a 6’10” freshman, both played key roles in South Carolina’s 77-to-70 victory March 26th over Southeastern Conference rival Florida. Silva scored 13 points and had a game-high nine rebounds, while Kotsar tallied 12 points.

In the second semifinal April 1, Oregon will play North Carolina. “The Ducks” of Oregon are in the Final Four for the first time since 1939, when they won the first NCAA national championship tournament.

Israeli forward Roman Sorkin shoots for “The Ducks” of Oregon. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

“The Tar Heels” of North Carolina are bidding for their sixth national title, after losing the 2016 final in heartbreaking fashion to Villanova in Houston, Texas. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made a buzzer-beating, championship-winning, three-point shot as Villanova defeated North Carolina, 77-to-74.

North Carolina has no international players on its roster, but Oregon has five – three from Canada, one from England and one from Israel.

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.

Major League Soccer Kicks Off 22nd Season With New Clubs in Atlanta and Minnesota

Posted March 6th, 2017 at 3:42 pm (UTC-4)
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New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence (92) battles for the ball against Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) in their MLS match March 5, 2017, in Atlanta. The Red Bulls won the game, 2-1. Photo: Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

Major League Soccer recently kicked off its 22nd season with new clubs based in Atlanta, Georgia, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The addition of expansion franchises Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United gives MLS a total of 22 teams, evenly divided with 11 in the Eastern Conference and 11 in the Western Conference.

Both Atlanta and Minnesota lost their MLS debut matches. In Atlanta, a sellout crowd of more than 55,000 packed Bobby Dodd Stadium, named after the late American college football coach at Georgia Tech.

The New York Red Bulls spoiled Atlanta’s opener, getting two second-half goals in a span of about six minutes to rally for a 2-1 victory. And in Portland, Oregon, the Portland Timbers scored a 5-1 home victory over Minnesota United.

Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi of the Portland Timbers was one of the top scorers in Major League Soccer in 2016. Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Let’s give a Sonny Side of Sports salute to a couple of the African goalscorers for Portland.

The Kenyan Lawrence Olum opened the scoring in the 14th minute, and Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi scored two late goals in injury time.

The 26-year-old Adi was one of the top scorers in MLS last season, finishing fifth overall with 16 goals.

For his part, the 32-year-old Olum was traded to the Timbers last month by Sporting Kansas City, which opened the season here in Washington with a 0-0 draw against D.C. United.

It was the last home opener for D.C. United at RFK Stadium. The club will play at the new 20,000-seat Audi Field next season.

Meanwhile, in Orlando, Florida, Orlando City beat New York City FC, 1-0. A sellout crowd of more than 25,000 saw Cyle Larin score the first goal at the new Orlando City Stadium.

 

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.

Mahrez one of the Marquee Players at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon

Posted January 9th, 2017 at 3:04 pm (UTC-4)
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Riyad Mahrez applauds fans after Leicester City match. Photo: Darren Staples / Reuters

Riyad Mahrez applauds fans after Leicester City match. Photo: Darren Staples / Reuters

Riyad Mahrez enters his second Africa Cup of Nations tournament after a nice run of recognition and success.

The 25-year-old Algerian was named the Confederation of African Football’s Player of the Year for 2016 on January 5th in Abuja, Nigeria.

Last month, Mahrez was also selected as the BBC African Footballer of the Year, and he also won two prizes from the Professional Footballers’ Association: Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year.

During the awards ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria, Mahrez gave credit to his teammates.

We heard Riyad Mahrez say how he is dedicating his African Footballer of the Year trophy to his family. When Riyad was 15, his father, Ahmed, died of a heart attack.

Reflecting on his father’s passing, Mahrez said in 2015: “My dad was always behind me, he wanted me to be a footballer … his death maybe was the kickstart. I don’t know if I started to be more serious but after the death of my dad things started to go for me. Maybe in my head I wanted it more.”

Last season, Mahrez helped Leicester City win a surprising English Premier League title, the first for the club in its 133-year history. He scored 17 goals and finished fifth in the EPL scoring charts.

Riyad Mahrez in action for Leicester City. Photo: Anthony Devlin / Reuters

Riyad Mahrez in action for Leicester City. Photo: Anthony Devlin / Reuters

This season, the Foxes of Leicester have dropped to 15th place in the 20-team EPL (as of January 9th), and Mahrez’s production has slumped, too. He has three goals in 20 matches.

Riyad Mahrez will now assume a leadership role for another group of foxes – the Desert Foxes of Algeria – as they aim for their second Nations Cup title, and first since 1990.

The Algerians advanced to the quarterfinals at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, before losing, 3-1, to eventual champion Ivory Coast in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Mahrez and the Desert Foxes of Algeria will kick off their 2017 Nations Cup campaign January 15th when they play Zimbabwe in Franceville, Gabon.

Three other venues – Oyem, Port Gentil and the capital, Libreville – will also stage matches during the 16-team African football showpiece. The final is scheduled for February 5th in Libreville.

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.

Olympic Boxing Champion Claressa Shields Turns Professional

Posted November 14th, 2016 at 5:12 pm (UTC-4)
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Olympic boxing champion Claressa Shields at the medal ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Peter Cziborra / Reuters

Olympic boxing champion Claressa Shields at the medal ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Peter Cziborra / Reuters

Three months after making Olympic boxing history in Brazil, Claressa Shields is getting ready to make her professional debut in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The 21-year-old Shields will fight former USA Boxing teammate Franchon Crews November 19th on the undercard of the Andre Ward – Sergey Kovalev world light heavyweight title main event at the new T-Mobile Arena in Vegas.

The Shields – Crews encounter will be a four-round bout at 168 pounds, three pounds heavier than Shields’s fighting weight in Rio de Janeiro in August. In Rio, Shields became the first American boxer, male or female, to win an Olympic title twice in a row.

During a recent workout in New York City, she said she hopes to raise the profile of women’s professional boxing.

Claressa Shields was dominant in the amateur ranks, winning 77 of her 78 fights. Her only loss was to England’s Savannah Marshall at the 2012 Women’s World Championships in China. Shields, though, felt like she won that bout, saying Marshall ran from her the whole fight.

Shields was born and raised in Flint, Michigan, and she was introduced to boxing by her father, Bo, who was in prison for seven years of his daughter’s childhood.

After his release, Bo talked with Claressa about Laila Ali, the daughter of the late heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, and the last big-name star in women’s pro boxing.

Claressa Shields (L) lands a punch against Dutch opponent Nouchka Fontijn in the Olympic women's middleweight final in Rio. Photo: Peter Cziborra / Reuters

Claressa Shields (L) lands a punch against Dutch opponent Nouchka Fontijn in the Olympic women’s middleweight final in Rio. Photo: Peter Cziborra / Reuters

Laila Ali competed from 1999 to 2007 and she retired undefeated with 24 consecutive wins.

While Laila earned attention simply by being Muhammad Ali’s daughter, she did not have the Olympic experience of Claressa Shields, who says she has always worked and trained hard since first putting on the gloves at age 11.

Shields is confident she can surpass Laila Ali’s accomplishments in the ring. In her words, “I think that maybe within a year or two I’ll be known as the best female boxer who ever lived.”

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.

Cameroonian Center Joel Embiid Emboldens Philadelphia

Posted November 8th, 2016 at 4:55 pm (UTC-4)
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Joel Embiid dunks in a game against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid dunks in a game against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

“I want to play more,” says Joel Embiid, “but it’s on them.”

“Them,” in this case, is the coaching staff of the Philadelphia 76ers, which is taking a cautionary approach with their young and talented Cameroonian center, who missed the past two NBA seasons because of a broken right foot.

Embiid is currently averaging 22 minutes a game, less than half of a regulation NBA contest, but even with restricted playing time, he’s showing he soon could develop into one of the league’s dominant players.

In Philadelphia’s first six regular season games, all losses, Embiid has averaged almost 18 points and seven rebounds each game.

Joel Embiid goes up for a rebound. Photo: Chris Szagola / Associated Press

Joel Embiid goes up for a rebound. Photo: Chris Szagola / Associated Press

The 76ers had the NBA’s worst record (10-72) last season, but with the 22-year-old Embiid teaming up with two other young big men, Jahlil Okafor and Ben Simmons, who are both 20-years-old, there is a sense that Philadelphia’s fortunes are about to change for the better.

Simmons was the top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but like Embiid, he broke a bone in his right foot and is not expected to play until January. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James describes Simmons as “a great, young talent … and Philly should be excited to have him.”

Joel Embiid is a key piece in the rebuilding plans of the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo: Chris Szagola / Associated Press

Joel Embiid is a key piece in the rebuilding plans of the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo: Chris Szagola / Associated Press

Philly fans are also excited to finally see Joel Embiid on the court.

The 76ers picked Embiid third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, after he played one season at the University of Kansas.

The top pick in that draft was Andrew Wiggins, who was Embiid’s teammate at Kansas.

Wiggins won the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year award and has averaged almost 19 points a game in two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

If he can stay healthy, Joel Embiid should emerge as a strong candidate for the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year award, and a franchise player for a struggling club that won its last championship in 1983 when Hall of Famers Moses Malone and Julius “Dr. J” Erving were the big 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.

USA Olympic Hurdler Sydney McLaughlin

Posted August 1st, 2016 at 4:17 pm (UTC-4)
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Sydney McLaughlin (left) sets a world junior record of 54.15 seconds in the women's 400m hurdles during the 2016 USA Olympic Track & Field Trials. Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sydney McLaughlin (left) sets a world junior record of 54.15 seconds in the women’s 400m hurdles during the 2016 USA Olympic Track & Field Trials. Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, who celebrates her 17th birthday on August 7th, is going to Rio de Janeiro as the youngest American track and field athlete to compete in the Olympics since 1976.

The teenager is scheduled to graduate next year from Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where she started a juggling club.

McLaughlin can twirl balls and bowling pins while riding a unicycle, and she says it would be amazing if juggling is one day made an Olympic sport.

For now, though, McLaughlin is focused on making her Olympic debut in the hurdles.

She qualified for the Rio Games by finishing third in the women’s 400-meters hurdles at last month’s USA Olympic Track & Field Trials, in a personal best and world junior record 54.15 seconds.

Sydney McLaughlin is a member of a very athletic family.

Olympic hurdler Sydney McLaughlin Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press

Olympic hurdler Sydney McLaughlin
Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press

Her father, Willie, competed in the 400 meters in the 1984 USA Olympic Track & Field Trials.

He reached the semifinal round, but didn’t qualify for the Olympics that year in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, her mother, Mary, was a runner in high school, and her older brother, Taylor, is a hurdler at the University of Michigan.

Sydney McLaughlin describes competing at last month’s Olympic Trials in Oregon as the single most stressful thing she’s ever done in her life.

Now she’s going to Brazil, where the pressure promises to be even more intense.

The heats in the women’s 400-meter hurdles begin on August 15th in Rio, and the final is August 18th.

Even if she doesn’t win a medal at the Olympics, the young hurdler looks ready to wave the American flag high at future international competitions.

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.

USA Olympic Tennis Team

Posted July 26th, 2016 at 1:41 pm (UTC-4)
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Olympic tennis player Sloane Stevens of the USA in action at the Citi Open in Washington. Photo: Bill Workinger / Voice of America

Olympic tennis player Sloane Stevens of the USA in action at the Citi Open in Washington. Photo: Bill Workinger / Voice of America

While some of the world’s top golfers have withdrawn from next week’s Rio Games because of concerns about the Zika virus, members of the USA’s Olympic tennis team are looking forward to playing in Brazil.

Sloane Stephens and Steve Johnson will both be making their Olympic debuts in Rio de Janeiro. The 23-year-old Stephens is currently ranked 23rd in the women’s world tennis rankings, while the 26-year-old Johnson is at number-21 in the men’s rankings.

Both players competed at the recent Citi Open hard court tournament here in Washington. The tennis action in Rio will also be on a hard court surface, providing the players with a good warm-up for the U.S. Open in New York in late August, the year’s final Grand Slam event.

In an interview with my Voice of America colleague Bill Workinger, Sloane Stephens talked about the thrill of going to her first Olympics.

Sloane Stephens describes the USA’s Olympic women’s tennis team as “pretty strong and pretty deep.” The squad is led by world number-one and four-time Olympic champion Serena Williams, who won her seventh Wimbledon singles title earlier this month.

In addition, Serena teamed with her older sister, Venus, to win her sixth Wimbledon doubles crown. The Williams sisters have won gold medals in women’s doubles at the past two Olympics, while Serena is also the defending Olympic champion in women’s singles. However, there are injury concerns about Serena ahead of Rio 2016 – she pulled out of this week’s Rogers Cup tournament in Canada because of shoulder inflammation.

The USA’s Olympic men’s tennis team also has a formidable duo in doubles, the twin brothers and defending Olympic champions Bob and Mike Bryan. Brian Baker, Dennis Kudla, Steve Johnson and Jack Sock will play singles, while Sock and Johnson will also play doubles. Like Sloane Stephens, Johnson is very excited about competing at his first Olympics.

A total of 172 players are expected to challenge for medals at the Olympic Tennis Center in Rio de Janeiro. Action begins August 6th, with the women’s singles final August 13th and the men’s singles final August 14th.

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Editor’s Note: On July 29th, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, the defending Olympic doubles champions, announced they were pulling out of the Rio Games, citing health concerns that have prompted other athletes to skip the Olympics as well.

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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