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Young Pole Vault Star’s Career Almost Ends Over an Innocent Photograph

Young Pole Vault Star’s Career Almost Ends Over an Innocent Photograph

Culture

When people become famous, they prefer to be recognized for their hard work, drive or talent. But what happens when someone gets famous for something that’s completely out of his or her control? That’s exactly what happened to Allison Stokke. Today, she’s a famous pole vaulter and fitness model. But back in 2007, when she was just 17 years old, Allison Stokke became a viral phenomenon overnight. The controversy surrounding Stokke broke the internet — before breaking the internet was even a thing. You won’t believe what the record-breaking athlete had to go through to get her life back together.

Allison Stokke becomes a pole vaulter

Born in Newport Beach, California, Allison Stokke grew up in a competitive athletic family. Her older brother, David, was a national youth level gymnast. Following in her brother’s footsteps, Allison Stokke tried gymnastics to see if she too could become a gymnast. However, she eventually came to realize gymnastics was not her true passion.

Allison Stokke smiles as she competes in the pole vault

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

Instead, she found her passion in pole vaulting. Over the course of her school tenure, Stokke would grow to become an incredible pole vaulter, and she’d eventually compete at the highest level of her sport. But to her horror, the attention she eventually attracted would jeopardize her entire career and change her life forever.

She already starts to break records

Allison Stokke’s incredible career as a pole vaulter began in high school. Still new to the sport, she immediately began to find success. In 2004 — her first year competing in track and field — Allison recorded a vault of 3.86 meters (12 feet, 7 ¾ inches), which broke the American record for high school freshmen.

Allison Stokke breaks pole vault records almost immediately

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

With that one big leap, her vault was the best ever recorded by an American 15-year-old. Allison’s incredible feat would mark the start of a promising athletic profession, but while the achievement was the first of many in her career as a pole vaulter, it also marked the beginning of a path towards a massive controversy.

Allison Stokke becomes a champion

Stokke’s record-setting vault was impressive, but she was just scraping the surface of what would become an incredible pole vaulting career. At the end of her freshman year, the track and field sensation went on to win the CIF California State Championship. It was the first championship of her high school career, but it wouldn’t be her last.

Superstar pole vaulter Allison Stokke focuses as the prepares to take off

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

Allison was becoming a full-blown superstar in the world of pole vaulting, shattering the expectations of herself and her peers.  But with each record she would break and each championship she would win, the closer she inched towards the controversy that would come to define her life.

She breaks another pole vault record

One record wasn’t enough for the up-and-comer. Just a year after making history as a 15-year-old, the track and field sensation did it again. As a sophomore, she leaped to a new personal best: 4.11 meters (13 feet, 5 ¾ inches). Her mark would set a new high school sophomore record.

Allison Stokke warms up before she attempts a pole vault

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

It also stood as the best vault ever recorded by an American 16-year-old. Unfortunately, her luck would run out, and she would eventually reach the first setback of her career — one which would cause her to question whether or not pole vaulting was too dangerous for her own safety.

Things take a shocking turn

By the end of 2005, Allison Stokke had already become one of the most successful high school pole vaulters in the history of the sport. But as they say, all good things come to an end. And in this case, a horrifying injury would beg an even more terrifying question: Was pole vaulting a sport that could jeopardize her long-term health?

Newport Harbor High's Allison Stokke sprints down the runway

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

In a practice session, the defending state champion was testing a larger pole she had never used. She took off — and didn’t get a high enough vault to push her clear to the landing pad. Seconds later, disaster struck.

She suffers a major injury

In her practice session at Golden West College, Allison Stokke landed awkwardly in the concrete launch box. Later on, her fear was confirmed: the superstar athlete had broken the tibia in her right ankle. The injury would require surgery. Allison Stokke, the defending California state champion, was unable to compete for the rest of the season.

Allison Stokke lands awkwardly after her pole vault

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

The record-breaking pole vaulter said she was incredibly upset, because she was aiming to win another state championship. Rehabilitation would take four to six months. And during her tough recovery process, Allison was forced to question what could’ve happened if things had gone even worse.

She wins another pole vaulting championship

In the face of adversity for the first time, Allison Stokke stood strong. She came back with a vengeance in her senior year of high school, winning another championship at the CIF California State Meet. With a new best of 4.14 meters (13 feet, 6 ¾ inches), She ranked second in the national high school rankings.

Allison Stokke sprints down the runway, preparing for takeoff

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

To cap off an incredible year and a historic high school career, the superstar pole vaulter finished eighth at the national junior championships. Allison Stokke had finally started to get recognition for her athletic accomplishments — but in a horrifying twist, disaster struck for a second time.

Her story takes a disturbing turn

Allison Stokke drew national attention for her record-breaking pole vaulting career, but soon she would experience a type of attention that would shock her to her core. This was a kind of attention that no one on earth had previously experienced. In 2007, the high school athlete’s popularity skyrocketed for something completely unrelated to her athletic performance, but instead for something many people would consider disturbing.

Allison Stokke looks on as she prepares for her next vault

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

The controversy would last for years, and it would come to define the life of Allison Stokke. People across the world would come to know her name, but not for the right reasons. While she was indeed an athlete before — a record-setting pole vaulter, in fact. But now, she was a target.

This photo of her goes viral

That year, while Allison Stokke was at a competition in New York, a journalist for a California track and field website took a photo of her and posted it online. It was something the photographer had done plenty of times before — but this time, it was different. The photographer captured an innocent photo of the superstar athlete in the midst of a competition.

The 'hot pole vaulter' photo that made Allison Stokke go viral

Photo by Stefano Cobucci/Flickr

This photograph didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. But the picture would eventually circulate to the wrong people, and Allison Stokke — who had just turned 18 years old — would begin to get attention from a dark and disturbing place.

‘Pole Vaulting is Sexy, Barely Legal’

One day, the photograph of Allison Stokke was sent to sports blogger Matt Ufford, who owned a blog called With Leather. The blog was known for its objectification of women, particularly in the area of sports — and Stokke became its next target. Matt Ufford saw the photograph and decided to share it with his readers, titling the blog ‘Pole Vaulting is Sexy, Barely Legal.’

Allison Stokke smiles for a photo before she prepares for her next pole vault

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

The blog, written just two months after Allison Stokke turned 18, drew massive attention to the photo of the pole vaulter competing, and it took the internet by storm. However, when the photo was taken, Allison Stokke was still only 17 years old. Was it even legal for Matt Ufford to publish this blog?

Allison Stokke goes on damage control

In his blog, Matt Ufford commented on the physical attractiveness of 17-year-old Allison Stokke. His remarks were not only disturbing, but they immediately introduced a legal issue into the already shocking story. The article’s popularity, the sexual nature of Matt Ufford’s remarks and the sexually-charged responses from Ufford’s audience disturbed many people, including the photographer who took the viral photo of Allison Stokke.

Allison Stokke rests after pole vaulting

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

In a desperate attempt to put a stop to the controversy, the photographer threatened to sue Matt Ufford if he did not remove the photo of Allison Stokke from his website. Despite the photographer’s best attempts to protect her, the controversy surrounding Stokke continued to gain more and more attention. Her once simple life had now spun into a chaotic frenzy.

She becomes the center of attention

By the time the photographer tried to prevent the photo of Allison Stokke from spreading, it was already too late. Dozens of websites had already shared the photo, spreading it across the internet like wildfire. Allison Stokke had become the center of attention on the internet, but the kind of attention she was receiving was something no one would ever want.

Newport Harbor High's Allison Stokke sprints down the runway

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

People weren’t talking about Allison Stokke’s impressive achievements as a pole vaulter. Instead, they were making sexual comments about what she looked like when she was 17 years old. As the images continued to circulate social media, things only got worse.

She becomes ‘internet famous’, but miserable

Allison Stokke had gone completely viral. And with her unwanted fame came the kind of attention every parent fears. As the situation spiraled out of control, a tribute website dedicated to Stokke emerged. The website featured several images of her competing in the pole vault, and it attracted an audience that continued to make Allison Stokke’s life miserable.

Allison Stokke prepares to jump

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

Soon after, some people created internet fan groups that attracted thousands of followers. And as if that attention wasn’t enough, news media across the U.S. began to catch hold of the horrifying story. Allison Stokke was about to become a global storyline.

Her story breaks the Internet

It only took a couple of weeks for the photos of Allison Stokke to turn her into a global phenomenon. Her story was published in newspapers and magazines around the world, from The Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the BBC, The Sydney Morning Herald and German magazine Der Spiegel.

Allison Stokke brings her feet up as she prepares to clear the pole

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

CBS also covered the story on television, warning people about the dangers of the internet being used to publicly sexualize young people. Allison had gone from a celebrated pole vaulter to a poster child for the terrible things that could go wrong in the life of a high schooler. Worst of all, the controversy didn’t even stop there.

She looks for outside help

Allison Stokke tried to control the narrative on her own, but she eventually decided she needed help. After all, she’d been bombarded with emails and requests for photo shoots. She and her family eventually decided to hire a media consultant. They hoped the consultant would help with the media requests and tell the story in a way that celebrates Allison Stokke for who she is instead of what she looks like.

Alison Stokke pole vaulting

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

Allison Stokke pulls her feet towards the sky as she prepares to launch (Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage)Stokke gave an interview on pole vaulting technique, which was uploaded to YouTube. The video received hundreds of thousands of views. But to her disappointment, the comments and discussions on the video mostly remained sexual and related to her looks. It felt like Allison couldn’t possibly escape the attention she’d been receiving.

Allison Stokke looks to make a legal case

All this newfound stardom and opened a Pandora’s box of issues that would require a closer look into the legal implications of internet fame and privacy rights. A lawyer by trade, Allison Stokke’s father decided to begin reviewing online materials to identify illegal behavior or stalkers. Allison Stokke had been receiving so much unwanted attention that the safety of her and her family became a priority issue.

Allison Stokke looks on as she prepares to take on the pole vault

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

If her father could find something potentially illegal, there would be a possibility that the information he found could be used to shut down the “fan” sites that were sexualizing Allison Stokke once and for all. As her father desperately searched for solutions, the pressure continued to mount up. Eventually, it appeared as though Allison was out of answers.

She becomes a sex symbol against her will

All of the attention Stokke received began to take a toll. In an interview with The Washington Post, the famous pole vaulter said that “even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning.” She mentioned how her hard work as a pole vaulter felt like it didn’t even matter, because nobody saw her as an athlete. Instead, they saw her as a sex symbol.

Allison Stokke measures her steps in preparation for her next attempt

Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage

German magazine Der Spiegel, who wrote a story on Allison Stokke, pointed out that she had become a “sex symbol against her will.” The attention had a psychological effect on the high schooler. Stokke said that she found her newfound popularity “creepy and a little scary,” and she started to become more careful about locking doors behind her.

She tries to get away from it all

In an article on about Stokke’s accomplishments and controversy both, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the athlete did not ever seek or endorse the disturbing type of attention she had been receiving. A sex symbol against her will, Allison Stokke had gone viral for something she had no control over. Every effort she and her family made to prevent strangers from invading her privacy seemed to result in strangers becoming even more invasive than they already were.

Allison Stokke poses for a photo

Photo from Instagram/@allisonstokke

By that point, Allison Stokke was desperate to get through high school and move away to college. A change of scenery could maybe help her leave the entire scandal behind. But with all the attention focused on her, would it even be possible for Allison to live a “normal” life ever again?

She starts a new chapter of her life

As the controversy raged, Allison Stokke needed to get away and start a new chapter of her life. But with so much negative attention on her, would it even be possible for the pole vaulter to go to college and compete for a track and field program?

Allison Stokke takes a selfie

Photo from Instagram/@allisonstokke

Allison Stokke finished in eighth place at the national junior championships in her final year of high school. But college recruiters could still decide the attention she might bring to their team would be too much to handle. She waited and waited for an offer, until she finally decided to make a life-changing decision.

She competes for Cal Berkeley

With a major decision to make, Allison Stokke chose to attend the University of California, Berkeley. The college offered her an athletic scholarship to compete as a pole vaulter for their track and field program. She would compete for coach Scott Slover, one of the most respected coaches in the country and a former five-time All-American at UCLA.

Allison Stokke competes for Cal Berkeley

Photo from Flickr/Avinash Kunnath

Allison Stokke trained hard to prepare for her college career, desperately hoping to continue her pole vaulting success. Would Allison Stokke finally be able to move past the nightmare high school controversy and thrive as a college athlete? Or was the controversy that had haunted her family for years finally be the obstacle she was unable to overcome?

She succeeds at the college level

Allison Stokke wasn’t going to let the controversy stop her. In her first year at UC Berkeley, the track and field superstar broke the school’s freshman record with a vault of 4.11 meters (13 feet, 5 ¾ inches). A year later, she finished eighth at the Pac-10 Championships and seventh at the MPSF Indoor Championships.

Allison Stokke trains with hopes to compete in the Olympics

Photo from Instagram/@allisonstokke

This continued success led to her making her debut at the NCAA Women’s Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, in which she finished 19th. Finally, it seemed like Allison was back on track. But the star pole vaulter was about to encounter another shocking twist that would alter the course of her life.

Allison Stokke comes up short

By her sophomore year of college, Allison Stokke had added another four inches to her personal best pole vault mark. But despite her improvements, the former star finished eighth at the Pac-10 Championships and seventh at the MPSF Indoor Championships. For the first time in her pole vaulting career, Allison Stokke wasn’t placing near the top in her events.

Allison Stokke attempts to clear the bar

Photo from Instagram/@allisonstokke

In her junior year, the pole vaulter saw another eighth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships, but this time, she didn’t even qualify for the NCAA Championships. It seemed as though Allison Stokke had reached her peak. Was the former high school superstar’s career as a pole vaulter finally coming to an end?

She tries to compete in the Olympics

With her collegiate career in the rearview mirror, Allison decided to turn her attention and focus her efforts on competing in the London Olympics. In 2012, she reached a new lifetime best of 4.36 meters (14 feet, 3 ½ inches). The mark showed that Stokke had a strong chance to qualify for the Olympics if she could clear that height when it mattered most.

Allison Stokke reaches as far as she can as she attempts to clear the bar

Photo from Instagram/@allisonstokke

She continued putting work into a potential Olympic bid and eventually managed to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. With a chance at Olympic glory on the line, Stokke went to the trials. But when she arrived, something unimaginable happened.

She endures a crushing defeat

It seemed like Allison Stokke was well on her way to the London Olympic Games. But when she competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, something happened that no one could’ve possibly seen coming. At the trials, Allison was unable to even clear the opening height of 4.25 meters (13 feet, 11 ¼ inches).

Allison Stokke, the 'hot pole vaulter'

Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Just like that, the track and field superstar’s hopes of representing her country on the world’s biggest stage were crushed. Allison Stokke no longer appeared to have what takes to compete as a professional athlete in her future. With no obvious career path in her immediate future, what would her future hold?

She finds a new beginning as a model

After her Olympic dreams were shattered, Allison Stokke began a new career. Being a professional athlete was no longer in the cards for Allison Stokke. But as it turned out, the hard work she put in as a pole vaulter would help her find a new career in a different field. She has since gone on to do sportswear modeling and performance marketing.

Allison Stokke begins her new modeling career

Photo from Instagram/@allisonstokke

In 2015, she landed her first deal with a major brand, working with Nike. A year later, she modeled for Uniqlo. Finally, it seemed like everything was going well for Allison Stokke. Had she finally moved past all of the life-changing controversies?

She teams up with GoPro

Allison Stokke may have become a sportswear model, but pole vaulting was still very much a part of her career. She began to work with GoPro, recording a series of videos of her pole vaulting with the camera attached to her pole.

Allison Stokke modeling and smiling for a photo

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The videos were created to show what it’s like to be a pole vaulter and display the unique abilities of the action camera equipment. The video series received millions of views on YouTube, becoming a major success for both GoPro and Allison alike. With her success as a sportswear model, Allison’s career as a pole vaulter seemed to have finally come to a close. But to the former champion, success as a model wasn’t enough.

She continues to pole vault

Though she did not place highly on the national rankings, Allison Stokke continued to compete regularly in national level track meets. In 2016, she finished in eighth place at the Chula Vista OTC High Performance meet. She made even more improvements in the following year, reaching third place at the 2017 Austin Longhorn Invitational.

Allison Stokke watches Rickie Fowler at the PGA tour

Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Did Allison Stokke have unfinished business as a competitor? Would another shot at the Olympics be in the cards for the 28-year-old? Maybe it could’ve been a possibility for the former superstar. But in the same year she achieved a third-place finish, Allison Stokke’s life took another major turn.

She starts to date Rickie Fowler

2017 was a year of major change for Allison Stokke. While she continued to model and compete in the pole vault, the former young superstar began to date another professional athlete: golfer Rickie Fowler. Like Allison Stokke, Rickie Fowler was a young athletic prodigy. The golfer spent 37 weeks as the number one amateur golfer in the world before he even turned 20 years old.

Rickie Fowler walks with his girlfriend, Allison Stokke, at a PGA Tour event

Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR

It seemed like a perfect match — two competitive, accomplished athletes who had been through controversy but also managed to come out better for it. Everything seemed like it was going great. But a year later, Allison Stokke would face another massive, life-changing question.

She finds her happily ever after

In 2018, Rickie Fowler asked Allison Stokke to be his wife. The athletic power couple got engaged to be married, and prepared to spend the rest of their lives together happily ever after. At that point, Allison Stokke had stopped pole vaulting altogether. In late January of 2019, she posted a video of her pole vaulting on Instagram — it was the first time she had stepped on the runway in a year.

Allison Stokke and Rickie Fowler hug at a PGA Tour event

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

A month later, Rickie Fowler won the Waste Management Phoenix Open. It was his fifth PGA Tour win, and his first since he and Allison Stokke started dating. After the win, the couple spent the rest of the day celebrating the incredible victory.

Connor Howe has been working in the sports industry for more than a half-decade, having spent time on the writing side as well as the marketing side of professional sports. He's spent time with the San Diego Chargers, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation, among others, and is excited to bring his knowledge and experience to Tiebreaker.

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