Magic Mountain and Measuring Sticks

Posted January 18th, 2014 at 8:12 pm (UTC-4)
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Andre Agassi lifts the Australian Open trophy for a fourth time in 2003. Photo: Reuters

Andre Agassi lifts the Australian Open trophy for a fourth time in 2003. Photo: Reuters

Former world #1 tennis star Andre Agassi heard some of the players complaining about the scorching heat at the Australian Open and tweeted the following: “Heat is not a curve it is an opportunity to separate yourself.”

The 43-year-old Agassi won four of his eight Grand Slam singles titles in Australia, and the way he separated himself from his opponents was in his workouts in the weeks leading up to Melbourne.

After seeing his world ranking drop to #141 in 1997, Agassi made a big comeback, due in part to a rigorous conditioning program.

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Sonny interviews Andre in 2011 in Washington.

While some players were putting their rackets down and enjoying the holidays during December, Agassi was running up “Magic Mountain,” a 293-meter hill on the outskirts of his Las Vegas birthplace, where he still lives today.

During some workouts, Agassi would run up the hill more than a dozen times to strengthen his legs, his heart and his mind. His longtime trainer, Gil Reyes, says the hard workouts helped make Agassi a more confident player.

“Magic Mountain” became one of Agassi’s measuring sticks, a place to gauge his fitness and conditioning.

I’m almost 10 years older than Agassi, and I’ll never go five sets in Melbourne, but I like to test myself on my own “Magic Mountain.”

West Cedar Lane, when run from Rockville Pike to Old Georgetown Rd. in Bethesda, Maryland, is an incline almost four times longer than Agassi’s hill, although probably not as steep.

Sonny likes to pump his fist like Andre every time he scales his Magic Mountain. Photo: Bill Workinger/VOA

Sonny likes to pump his fist like Andre every time he scales his Magic Mountain. Photo: Bill Workinger/VOA

Still, it’s a good challenge. I used to avoid it during my runs, but now it’s a measuring stick, because I know it’s making my legs, heart and mind stronger.

I time myself from the bottom to the top, and it’s easy to do, there are thin orange poles along the side of the road – measuring sticks.

Find yours and see how you size up. Those measuring sticks are helping keep me in the game for the long run.

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.

LeBron James & Serena Williams: AP’s Athletes of the Year

Posted December 30th, 2013 at 3:13 pm (UTC-4)
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LeBron James and Serena Williams. Photo: AP

LeBron James and Serena Williams Photo: AP

Here’s a Sonny Side of Sports salute to basketball star LeBron James and tennis champion Serena Williams, who are the Associated Press’s 2013 male and female athletes of the year.

Serena had what Gordon Smith, the executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association, describes as an unforgettable

Serena Williams lifts the U.S. Open trophy in New York Photo: AP

Serena Williams lifts the U.S. Open trophy in New York Photo: AP

year.

She had a record in singles of 78-4, with 11 titles – including the French Open and the U.S. Open.

The 32-year-old Williams also had a 34-match winning streak; won more than $12 million dollars in prize money, a record in women’s tennis; and became the oldest world number-one in women’s tennis history.

Serena’s 17 Grand Slam singles trophies also matches the number won by Swiss star Roger Federer who, like Williams, is 32-years-old.

But while Federer had his least successful year on the men’s tour since 2001, ending the year at number-six in the rankings, Williams dominated during 2013 and looks like she has several years of great tennis ahead of her.

LeBron James in action against the San Antonio Spurs Photo: Reuters

LeBron James in action against the San Antonio Spurs Photo: Reuters

LeBron James is also at the top of his sport. He celebrated his 29th birthday December 30th and is widely regarded as the best player in the National Basketball Association.

In June, LeBron led the Miami Heat to their second consecutive NBA title.

LeBron shoots over Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks Photo: AP

LeBron shoots over Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks Photo: AP

Miami defeated the San Antonio Spurs, four games to three, in a very competitive NBA Finals, and the player nicknamed “King James” rose to the occasion in the decisive Game 7, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

James was named Most Valuable Player of the championship series, and he also won his fourth league MVP trophy in 2013.

In winning the Associated Press award, LeBron says he believes his calling is much higher than being a basketball player, and he hopes to inspire young people.

 

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 Nigeria Football

Posted December 19th, 2013 at 3:31 pm (UTC-4)
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Nigerian players celebrate winning the Nations Cup trophy in Johannesburg. Photo: Reuters

Nigerian players celebrate winning the Nations Cup trophy in Johannesburg. Photo: Reuters

It’s been a great year for Nigeria football, with the country winning world and continental titles at the youth and senior levels.

In February, Nigeria’s senior national team, nicknamed the Super Eagles, won its third Africa Cup of Nations trophy with a 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso in Johannesburg, South Africa.

About nine months later, the Golden Eaglets of

Nigerian players pose for team photo before beating Mexico at FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico. Photo: Reuters

Nigerian players pose for team photo before beating Mexico in FIFA U-17 World Cup final in Mexico. Photo: Reuters

Nigeria won their record fourth FIFA U-17 World Cup championship with a 3-0 win over Mexico in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.

Nigerian players Musa Yahaya (#11) and Taiwo Awoniyi (#18) celebrate a goal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Photo: Reuters

Nigerian players Musa Yahaya (#11) and Taiwo Awoniyi (#18) celebrate a goal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Photo: Reuters

The Golden Eaglets did not lose a match in the UAE, and Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho, who had six goals in the tournament, was named the competition’s outstanding player.

African soccer analyst David Legge says the Golden Eaglets played a beautiful brand of passing football in the UAE, and the team, if it stays together, has the potential to win more medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and in future international tournaments.Brazil 2014 Logo

Looking ahead to 2014, Nigeria has its sights set firmly on Brazil, where it’s grouped with Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina and two-time champion Argentina for the first round of the FIFA World Cup.

Stephen Keshi didn't smile over his salary problems in 2013. Photo: AP

Stephen Keshi didn’t smile over his salary problems in 2013. Photo: AP

This will be Nigeria’s fifth World Cup appearance, and the team is led by head coach Stephen Keshi, who was a defender on the Super Eagles when they booked their first World Cup ticket at USA ’94.

Nigeria reached the Round of 16 at USA ’94 and France ’98, and Coach Keshi would love to see the team advance to later stages in Brazil. I’m sure Keshi would also love to see his salary paid on a consistent, regular basis by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

Keshi complained that he was not paid by the federation through much of 2013. Paying their coach is one New Year’s resolution that must be met by the NFF for Nigeria football to achieve greater success in 2014.

 

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.

Mandela the Fighter

Posted December 8th, 2013 at 3:59 pm (UTC-4)
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Mandela Boxing PicNelson Mandela fought for freedom and justice for all, a lifelong battle that was fueled, in part, by his love for boxing.

Mandela was an amateur boxer in his younger days and he credited the sport with helping instill discipline and the will to withstand the blows of hatred and a long imprisonment.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, the anti-apartheid icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote how a daily boxing program helped him cope with the demands and the pressures of the revolutionary movement in South Africa.

“I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress … After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle. After an evening’s workout, I would wake up the next morning feeling strong and refreshed, ready to take up the fight again.”

Nelson Mandela spars playfully with Muhammad Ali

Nelson Mandela spars playfully with Muhammad Ali

In taking up the fight, Mandela viewed boxing, in its purest form, as free from prejudice and discrimination.

“Boxing is egalitarian,” wrote Mandela. “In the ring, rank, age, color and wealth are irrelevant. When you are circling your opponent, probing his strengths and weaknesses, you are not thinking about his color or social status.”

Boxing great Muhammad Ali, a hero to many in his own right, met Mandela several times. In a statement released through his foundation, Ali said Mandela “was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge.”

Mandela also met several other boxing champions after being released from prison in 1990, including former world heavyweight titleholders Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.

Mandela met Lewis in April of 2001, shortly after he lost his world title belts to American Hasim Rahman, who knocked out Lewis in the fifth round during a championship fight in South Africa.

“I know the history of boxing,” said Mandela during his meeting with Lewis, “and I know the quality of champions.”

The late, great champion of freedom and justice said the best fighters have the ability to overcome adversity and prevail, and he predicted with proper training Lewis could reclaim the world heavyweight title.

Seven months later, Lennox Lewis knocked out Hasim Rahman in the fourth round in their rematch in Las Vegas to regain the world heavyweight boxing championship.

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.

Oladipo Delivers in Debut NBA Season

Posted December 4th, 2013 at 5:23 pm (UTC-4)
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Victor Oladipo dunks against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Photo: AP

Victor Oladipo dunks against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Photo: AP

We’re now about one-quarter of the way through the National Basketball Association’s regular season, and Victor Oladipo is putting up numbers that make him a top contender for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

I last blogged about Oladipo almost five months ago, shortly after he was selected #2 overall by the Orlando Magic in the NBA Draft. The speedy and athletic guard said at that time he would continue to work hard to improve as a player, and the hard work is paying off.

Victor Oladipo goes up for a shot against the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo: AP

Victor Oladipo goes up for a shot against the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo: AP

On December 3, in a 126-125 double overtime loss to the host Philadelphia 76ers, Oladipo had his best all-around NBA game, tallying 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, which were career-highs in all three categories.

He ranks in the top five among all NBA rookies in several categories, but in his words, “I got a long way to go. I’m just willing to work to get there.”

Victor Oladipo shoots under Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Photo: AP

Victor Oladipo shoots under Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Photo: AP

Earlier in December, Oladipo returned here to the Washington area, where he played high school basketball. He wasn’t happy about the Magic losing to the Washington Wizards, 98-80, but he was delighted to play in front of friends and family at the Verizon Center arena.

Victor’s father, Chris, who is from Sierra Leone, was in attendance, and he watched his son play in the NBA for the first time. The elder Oladipo never attended his son’s games in high school or college.

Victor Oladipo said it was amazing to have his father at the game. He also describes himself as blessed and fortunate to play in the NBA.

In his debut season, Oladipo is delivering for the Magic and showing he has the talent and the dedication to succeed in basketball’s best league.

 

 

 

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.

Joe DeCapua and the Mind-Body Connection

Posted November 9th, 2013 at 3:04 pm (UTC-4)
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Joe DeCapua

My Voice of America colleague Joe DeCapua is one of the most hardworking guys I’ve ever met, but trust me, sports fans, Joe knows how to relax and he does have a softer side.

Over the years, Joe has given me some great tips about broadcast journalism as well as maintaining and improving your health.

A fourth degree black belt and instructor in Aikido, Joe recently wrote an article for Be Well World titled, “Mind & Body in Harmony.”

While Joe wrote it with Aikido in mind, I’ve applied this passage recently to my running:

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Joe with some of his Aikido students

“Some liken it to an athlete ‘in the zone,’ a state of flow. Intuition and action happen simultaneously. However, our natural state is often under attack in the modern world by stress, technology, responsibility, etc.”

“We strive to be in that natural state as we practice and as we live each day. Tension originates in the mind. To help cope with this, think of two words: ‘relax’ and ‘softer.'”

For a runner who aims for that “zone” or “state of flow,” a tightening of the legs or upper body usually spells trouble. So in addition to a series of daily stretches, I’ve added Joe’s “relax” and “softer” mantra during especially challenging sections of my runs.

NIH LogoThis morning’s skullcap 8-miler in freezing temperatures found me running up Cedar Lane by the National Institutes of Health.

It’s a long, gradual hill and I’ve struggled on it in the past. But I kept repeating those magical words, “Relax. Softer. Relax. Softer. Relax. Softer,” trying to keep them in sync with my arm swing. It worked. I didn’t lock up and I finished strongly.

Now my wife, Suzanne, wants me to start saying “relax” and “softer” more around the house. I will, and I’m also starting to say it more and more at my VOA cubicle: “Relax. Softer. Relax. Softer.” I know if I lock up in the office, Joe will be there with the key.

 

 

 

 

 

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’s Iheanacho: From Small Poles to Four Goals

Posted October 23rd, 2013 at 10:43 am (UTC-4)
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“I’ve scored four goals in a game many times, but only in the streets with my friends. But never in an international match, never for my country. The feeling is amazing,” said Kelechi Iheanacho, after an impressive performance in Nigeria’s opening match of the Under 17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

Kelechi gave the Mexicans a big whooping which sent them running back to their strategy boards. Just imagine it, four goals from a single player and two more from his teammates as Nigeria routed Mexico, 6-1. No amount of ice cream and gummy bears would cure the sunken hearts of these U17 players from Mexico who went through the ordeal.

We here at the Sonny Side of Sports are very sure the scouts at the games certainly have Kelechi jotted down as a player to look at. The 17-year-old plays for Taye Academy Club in Nigeria and still remains humble to the T after proving his worth.

Will Kelechi follow in the footsteps of greats like Eto’o and Messi who all started their careers this good and this early? Has a star been born? Let’s keep our eyes on the ball as Nigeria and the other countries push forward towards winning the U17 World Cup.

Here’s a look at Kelechi’s four goals.

Kelechi Iheanacho is playing for a Nigerian team with a proud pedigree at this U17 tournament. The Golden Eaglets of Nigeria have won the trophy three times (1985, 1993 and 2007) and finished runners-up three times (1987, 2001 and 2009).

***This blog post was written by Voice of America Intern Kwame Asante Ofori for the Sonny Side of 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.

The Olympic Torch Takes a Spacewalk

Posted October 5th, 2013 at 6:45 am (UTC-4)
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Yes you read right! The Sochi 2014 Olympic torch will make a historic appearance in space as part of its relay from Greece to Russia for the Winter Olympics next year.

I’m sure like me, some of you are wondering how this is going to work. I’m no rocket scientist, but the little Einstein in my head tells me the Olympic torch will certainly not be burning way up there in space.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov (L) and Sergie Ryazansky
Photo: Reuters

The torch is due to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) on the Soyuz TMA-11M manned spaceship in November. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergie Ryazansky have been tasked with the Olympic assignment.

For safety reasons, the torch will not be lit during the spacewalk, according to Dmitry Chernyshenko, the President of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. Yes, I’m breathing easier, Olympic fans! Whew!!!

The captain of the spacecraft, Mikhail Tyurin, who received the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch at a ceremony in June, will be responsible for passing it over to cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who is currently based on the ISS. He will then deliver the torch back to Earth.

The spacewalk by the two Russians will be a great moment in Olympic Torch Relay history. The Sonny Side of Sports is looking forward to more fantastic feats during the winter sports festival, which officially opens February 7th in Sochi.

***This blog post was written by VOA Intern Kwame Asante Ofori for the Sonny Side of 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.

Yaya Toure on Target for Man City and Ivory Coast

Posted October 2nd, 2013 at 4:02 pm (UTC-4)
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Yaya Toure celebrates a goal against Manchester United on September 22, 2013. Man City beat Man U, 4-1. Photo: Reuters

Will Yaya Toure win a third straight African Footballer of the Year award?

Based on his recent performances, the 30-year-old Toure has to be considered a strong contender once again for the trophy.

African football analyst David Legge in Johannesburg says the rugged midfielder for Manchester City and Ivory Coast is doing very well early in the English Premier League season.

Yaya Toure scores against Manchester United on September 22, 2013. Photo: Reuters

Heading into Saturday’s (October 5) home match against Everton, Toure has scored in four straight games to put him near the top of the EPL scoring table.

Toure’s first two goals of the EPL season came off free kicks against Newcastle United and Hull City.

Manchester City’s Chilean manager, Manuel Pellegrini, says the Ivorian star often stays late after club training sessions to improve his free kick technique.

Yaya Toure jumps for joy after scoring against Hull City August 31, 2013. Photo: Reuters

In addition to his Man City duties, Toure is a key player for the Elephants of Ivory Coast, Africa’s highest-ranked football team.

He and the Elephants are bidding for a third straight World Cup appearance, and only west African rival Senegal stands between Toure and Ivory Coast going to Brazil 2014.

Ivory Coast will host Senegal October 12 in Abidjan in the first leg of their two-match play-off series. The winner of the series, on aggregate, will be one of five African teams to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

With three goals so far in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, Yaya Toure will surely be trying to find the net against the Senegalese and help Ivory Coast return to football’s premier event next year in Brazil.

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.

Parker and France Win First EuroBasket Title

Posted September 23rd, 2013 at 1:43 pm (UTC-4)
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Tony Parker reacts after winning the European basketball championship. Photo: Reuters

French star Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs says the road to a first European basketball title was an unbelievable journey and he wouldn’t change anything in how the successful script was written.

Parker and the French team won their first major basketball trophy Sunday with an 80-66 victory over Lithuania in the final of the European championship in Slovenia.

Parker was named tournament Most Valuable Player after scoring 32 points in a 75-72 overtime victory over defending champion Spain in the semifinals.

Two years ago, France lost to Spain in the EuroBasket final, 98-85, in Lithuania. Parker says he had much support in winning the gold medal this time around.

France’s Florent Pietrus and Tony Parker are delighted with their European championship basketball gold medals. Photo: Reuters

He gave special credit to France’s coaching staff led by Vincent Collet. The 31-year-old Parker lifted the EuroBasket trophy about three months after the Spurs lost to the defending champion Miami Heat in a hard-fought, seven game NBA Finals.

Tony Parker hugs head coach Vincent Collet after France’s gold medal victory. Photo: Reuters

In Parker’s words, “Coach Collet takes care of my body. He doesn’t kill me with two practices a day. He knows that I’ll show up when it’s a big game.”

Tony Parker definitely showed up for EuroBasket 2013. He averaged almost 20 points a game during the tournament, tops among all scorers.

 

 

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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