At 55, Adeoye Mafe, foremost British Athlete still carries the gait of a sportsman. He walks briskly and spiritedly. His feet are fast on the ground and yet measured.
Mafe was born in Britain on November 12, 1966, to Nigerian parents. He came to Nigeria recently for the burial of his father, Adebisi Mafe.
Father went to the UK in 1961
His father was a trained nurse. He worked briefly at the General Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria before he travelled to the UK in 1961 to pursue further studies.
While in Britain he continued his medical profession but later veered into engineering. He married an Ijebu lady, comfort Mafe (nee Ogebule) in 1966. They both gave birth to two children: Adeoye and Adeola.
Why Ade Mafe’s father was buried in Nigeria
Adebisi Mafe worked in several organisations in the UK until his retirement at age 65. He remained in the UK until he passed on in April this year at the age of 88.
Adebisi Mafe was the rallying point for the Mafe Descendants. He had left a word before his death that he would love to be buried in Nigeria.
So, in keeping with his request, his wife and children brought his remains home for burial recently.
Adeoye and his younger sister Adeola were so excited to come back to Nigeria after a long time. They mixed freely with the indigenes and had real fun at the Imuwen, Ijebu Imusin, Ogun State home of their parents.
The chat with Adeoye Mafe
While the party lasted, our correspondent could not resist the urge to have a chat with Adeoye who had an intriguing career in athletics in the UK.
At the age of 17, he represented Great Britain at the 1984 Olympic Games, reaching the 200 metres final.
He is a three-time World Indoor medallist and the 1989 European Indoor champion.
In the 200 metres, he won the gold medal at the 1989 European Indoor Championships; silver at the 1985 IAAF World Indoor Games and silver at the 1989 World Indoor Championships.
He represented England and won a bronze medal in the 200 metres event, at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.
Mafe is a member of the team which holds the British outdoor record for the 4 x 200 metres relay.
In 1991 he had the honour of receiving a commemorative plaque from Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace, in recognition of the 4 x 200m World Indoor Record run at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.
After retiring from athletics, Ade Mafe went on to work as a fitness coach for several football clubs, including Chelsea, Millwall and Milton Keynes. He also worked for Dons, West Bromwich Albion and Watford.
How he began his athletic career
He told Church Times during a brief chat at the burial event that he just discovered he could run right from his early school days. He then picked up interest in it until he ran his way to stardom.
“I just continued to run and run until I had the opportunity of running for Great Britain and I participated in several competitions. When I was 30 I went into football. I used to be a fitness coach for some clubs in Europe.”
The last time he came to Nigeria was when he was 25 years old.
“This is my first time in Nigeria in 30 years. The last time I came here was when my paternal grandmother died. But since then a lot has changed” he said.
This is my root
He expressed a lot of willingness to learn the Nigerian culture and adapt to the lifestyle here.
“The way of thinking here is a new idea to me. Life is around the world here. It is different. We are brought up in a different culture.
“But I must appreciate that this is the land of the birth of my parents. What makes me up is here. My heritage is here. This is my ancestral home. This is where my roots are,” he enthused.
Despite the misgivings people have about Nigeria, Mafe says he may consider coming to stay in Nigeria sometime in the future.
“This country has changed in the last 20 years. I have an uncle who lives in America and comes here often. It is interesting to come and see the people and know how they live. I may consider coming to stay,” he said.
Nigeria’s performance @ the commonwealth
The performance of team Nigeria at the just concluded commonwealth games did not come to him as a surprise.
He said he had always known Nigeria has a lot of talents. “What this country needs is to prop up the talents and encourage them. Nigerians will always do great in international competitions” he said.
He recalled when he came to Nigeria at the age of 7 on a visit. “I came here when I was 7 years. I recall I was running with a boy called Jaga on the long stretch of road in front of my father’s compound. That was when I knew there was talent here. I thought I could run more than him. But he was far ahead of me when we ran together. “
While noting that there are certain capacities required for an athlete, he said, “with all the hard work an athlete can do great”
He said he had always had an emotional attachment to British and Nigerian athletes. “I associate with Nigerian athletes culturally when I watch them on the track. When you see success like that of Tobi Amusan, you keep your fingers crossed and say it is for real.”