Football was the 31-year-old’s first love, and she was good enough to play internationally for Benin.
But a lack of investment and support left many players in the West African country frustrated – an all-too-familiar state of affairs in the women’s game across the continent in recent years – and led to her quitting and focusing on athletics instead.
After building some stability in her new sport, it took a lot of convincing from her coach for Ahouanwanou to look at the bigger picture and opt to compete in the heptathlon.
The discipline pits women against each other in seven different track and field events; 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and finally the 800m. The points earned in each race, throw and jump are then added up to find the overall winner.
Opening a new chapter in life has since stretched her physical and mental abilities to the hilt. Ahouanwanou became the first Beninois to win a gold medal at the African Championships back in 2018, before retaining her title in Mauritius last month.
But despite being a renowned heptathlete on the continent, she still believes there is a lot of room for improvement. A year after conquering the continent for the first time, Ahouanwanou became one of few African heptathletes to finish in the top 10 at a World Athletics Championships.
She was eighth at the Doha Games back in 2019, announcing herself to the world, but she prefers to look back at her success in Asaba, southern Nigeria, four years ago as her best career accomplishment. At the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Ahouanwanou finished in 15th place, having been fifth after the first four events.
She is now hoping to emulate Ghana’s Margaret Simpson, the only African to earn a heptathlon medal at the World Championships having taken bronze in Helsinki in 2005. But before that, Ahouanwanou is picking up valuable lessons along the way as she hopes to inspire other young athletes on the continent.
A two-time African champion, Ahouanwanou is attracting the spotlight before the World Championships start in Eugene, Oregon, on Friday, 15 July.
Leaving ‘the beautiful game’ in Benin proved to be an inspired decision.