Perhaps the name Allison Stokke and pole vaulting mean absolutely nothing to you, but we’re 99.99% certain that you’ve seen “the photo” at one point. In a flash, Stokke’s face was plastered all over the internet, you couldn’t escape it. Now 10 years after the photo went viral, Stokke is speaking up about the photo that completely changed her life’s path.
A Viral Phenomenon
As soon as a particular photo was posted online of Allison Stokke at a New York pole vaulting competition, her entire life was forever altered. People from every corner of the globe were making comments and re-posting the photo, without Stokke’s permission. Numerous news organization ran with the story and just like that, Allison Stokke was a viral phenomenon.
Despite her unwanted newfound fame, Allison carried on, set records, and even became a model. We’re here to tell her story, about her unwanted fame and what she has accomplished since that day, and in our best Taylor Swift reference…Ready for it?
Before we dish out all the juicy facts, it’s necessary to start at the beginning. California born and bred, Cindy and Allan Stokke are the proud parents of David and Allison. David (obviously her older brother) was a gymnast from a young age, and he influenced Allison to try her hand at it too. However, it didn’t take Allison long to discover that gymnastics wasn’t for her. How little did she know just how much that decision would change her life.
First Allison tried gymnastics but quickly found that it wasn’t her cup of tea so she tried something a bit different, pole vaulting. And that was it, her true calling. While at Newport Harbor High School, Allison rose to great lengths (literally) and became one of the country’s best, youngest vaulters.
Allison Stokke, The Record Breaker
From that moment, Allison broke records everywhere she went. Including the “American record for a high school freshman” when she pole vaulted at 3.86 m (12 ft 7 3⁄4 in). Moreover, her vaults actually became the best achieved by any American in the age group of 15 and 16.
Where It All Started
Welcome – the photo below is the exact one that propelled Allison Stokke to the limelight. The year was 2007, Stokke was in a competition in New York when a journalist from a Californian track and field website snapped the legendary photo. Naturally, the journalist uploaded the photo to his companies site and a few months later, the photo is re-posted and BAM. 17-year-old Allison Stokke is a viral sensation.
With Leather is the name of the site which re-posted Stokke’s photo and if the name didn’t give it away, it has a massive male following. Its members immediately began chatting about Stokke’s appearance in a rather vulgar way – especially when the woman in question was 17 at the time.
Absolutely none of the blog comments were related to pole vaulting. You guessed it, all of the attention was focused on Allison Stokke and her appearance. At 17 years of age, her life was completely flipped upside down.
The photographer who originally took the photos threatened to sue the owner of With Leather, Matt Ufford, if he did not immediately remove the images. However, at this point, it was already too late. The blog in question had received so much attention that the photo of Allison was quickly being shared on various other platforms.
Shortly after, a tribute website in Allison Stokke’s name was launched. This same site managed to discover tons of images of Stokke at pole vaulting competitions. As soon as the sites were flooded with more photos of Stokke, more “fans” began cyber-stalking her. Some followers referred to Stokke as their “internet crush”.
In just a few weeks, that photo of Allison Stokke turned her into an internet phenomenon. One that caught the attention of numerous news companies, like The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. Everyone was talking about the pole vaulter, Allison Stokke.
Don’t think for one second that the tale of Allison Stokke was reported in the United States alone. She actually made international news. News agencies like the British broadcast site the BBC, the Australian site The Sydney Morning Herald, and the German site Der Spiegel, were all talking about Allison Stokke. Search engines were doing double time as her name had been searched for more than a million times.
As a teenager, Stokke was able to recognize that her new situation was split unevenly. Yes, she was famous but for all the wrong reasons. The likes of Glamour were talking about her, Maxim wanted to do a photo-shoot, The Today Show asked her to be a guest.
Looks Over Athletics
But, no one wanted to talk about her achievements as an athlete. Quickly Allison realized that her fame would only ever follow her looks, so she decided that the best thing for her to do was to wait for the media circus to blow over. But would it ever happen?
At this point, Allison decided to tackle the overwhelming situation all on her own, but it was more challenging than she could have predicted. The number of emails and photoshoot requests that she was getting was in Mount Everest proportions. Therefore Allison hired a media consultant to help manage her fame and fanbase.
So Much Attention
That’s when Allison Stokke decided to grant an interview, but only to discuss her pole vaulting technique and change the narrative of her story. One that didn’t talk about her looks, but her as an athlete. Of course, the interview was posted on YouTube but the comments remained the same. With more than one hundred thousand views, Allison’s “fans” were there to only discuss one thing – her looks.
Allan, Allison’s father, decided to step in. As he is a lawyer, he began to review all of the online material that spoke about his daughter. He made it his mission to try and identify any illegal behavior or stalkers that Allison had.
Stokke spoke to The Washington Post and said, “Even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning. I worked so hard for pole vaulting and all this other stuff, and it’s almost like that doesn’t matter. Nobody sees that. Nobody really sees me.”
Highlighting the Situation
CBS took to the story, but in another way. They used her story to highlight the dangers the internet presents in terms of publicly sexualizing people, especially young people. And even more especially when that individual’s permission has not given permission. Der Spiegel, the German website we spoke of before, remarked that Stokke became a “sex symbol against her will”.
Authors Brett Hutchins and David Rowe wrote a scientific article on the very subject at hand saying, “people often blame the sexualization process on the women themselves”. In addition, after seeing Allison’s story, many reporters thought of Brandi Chastain’s celebratory dance after winning the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in her sports bra. Both Brandi and Allison’s sports moment was overshadowed by their appearance.
Unfortunately, all of the attention started to get to Allison, psychologically she began to break down. In recent interviews, she revealed that she found all the eyeballing, longing looks incredibly “creepy and a little scary”. As an extra precaution, she would carefully check and double-check that she had locked the doors behind her.
The Battle Ahead
One thing was crystal clear, Allison’s road ahead was only going to be a hard, long one, but one worth fighting for. Furthermore, she understood that many people would only ever comment on her looks, and not her skill or athleticism. Online platforms showed that at this point, her name had been searched over a million times and even more sites popped up, reporting on her “skill”.
Photographers and “fans” alike continued to attend Allison’s track and field competitions which only meant one thing. Her fame only continued. But she ignored it all and focused on herself and what she wanted. Stokke studied hard and landed a well deserved athletic scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied sociology.
Record After Record
In her first year with the California Golden Bears, Stokke was a participant in various competitions, especially the collegiate track team. In fact, she would break the school record as a freshman athlete! In BOTH indoors and outdoors when reaching a vault of 4.11 m (13 ft 5 3⁄4 in). #girlpower
Her second year was one to remember as well. Thanks to the guidance of her coach Scott Slover, Allison was able to do things she never thought possible. At the Pac-10 Championships, she ended up finishing 8th, and at the MPSF Indoor Championships, she snagged 7th.
Allison’s 3rd year was arguably her best yet. She received all-conference academic honors at both the Pac-10 and MPSF levels. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she was also recognized by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for her exemplary academic achievements. Nothing could stop her now!
Allison became used to “fans” following her around both on and off the field. Whether it was at a track meet, or after hours at the beach with friends, it seemed like the young woman was always looking over her shoulder. More and more fan websites popped up daily, some promoting her success, and others just focusing on her appearance.
From 2009 to 2014, the amount of attention Allison was getting was extremely overwhelming. So much so that during those years, she barely existed. “At that point, I wasn’t the best vaulter in the country, so why should I be getting that much attention?” she said.
“It cut the other way, too, though. I think at some point Cal just decided: ‘Don’t put anything up about her.’ So even if I jumped high or won a meet, they wouldn’t put up a picture or article, and that’s actually the kind of recognition I would have liked to see.” We can’t see many other athletes allowing their achievements to be kept quiet, but it was something Stokke put up with.
After graduation, Stokke continued to compete in pole vaulting competitions. While she didn’t rank as high as some other American athletes, that didn’t matter, she knew what she wanted. Stokke was dedicated to overcoming that famous photo so she began training to make the U.S.A. Olympic team.
Up and Up
As she managed to reach a new lifetime best of 4.36 m (14 ft 3 1⁄2 in) during the 2012 season, her dream of making it all the way to the 2012 London Olympics became closer than ever. It seemed like her dream goal was finally in sight!
Missed The Cut
At the 2012 United States Olympic Trials, Allison tried her absolute hardest but it sadly wasn’t enough. In the end, she was one of 12 who had failed to just clear the opening height of 4.25 m (13 ft 11 1⁄4 in). That meant her Olympic dreams were over – this time around anyways.
Allison, The Model
At this rate, Allison saw that she was struggling with pole vaulting so she pursued a new avenue – she became a sportswear model. Ergo she began modeling for the likes of Nike, Inc., Athleta, and various others.
GoPro Sets Their Sights
This leads us to our next fact, Allison and GoPro teamed up to form quite a successful partnership. GoPro received tons of media attention and saw a rise in sales while Stokke taught a larger audience about pole vaulting behind the scenes. With a GoPro attached to her pole, Stokke took users on a journey with her to show how pole vaulting really is. On the flip side, GoPro was able to advertise their camera equipment in a different avenue. By 2016, GoPro’s videos of Allison Stokke were viewed more than six million times.
That same year, Uniqlo contacted Allison and the work really began. Numerous video campaigns featured Stokke, she was exercising and modeling their new fitness collection. Recently it seems like Stokke may be leaving the modeling world behind, but that’s yet to be confirmed.
Seems like 2016 was an intense year for Allison Stokke – no really. On numerous occasions, she was seen with a professional golfer, Rickie Fowler, particularly the motocross Grand Prix. Reporters were working extra hard on finding out if the two were a serious item and when they posted snaps on each other’s social media, reporters couldn’t get enough.
Who’s The Hunk?
Of course with the rumor mills working overtime, we rolled up our sleeves and learned just who the 28 old was. Rickie Fowler is a professional golfer and a successful one at that. With seven professional wins, including four PGA Tours, two European Tour wins, and one Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Fowler is on a roll.
Err, a teammate of Fowler accidentally spilled the beans that Fowler and Stokke were in fact involved. While at a press conference, Jason Day (Fowler’s teammate) joked that his partner was absent because he had found a new partner. Smooth, real smooth buddy.
Now that the duo was official, the attention from all aspects of social media is in quite the frenzy. Tons of photos are circulating the web of Stokke and Fowler holding hands and hanging out. Heck, you can follow either one on social media and their accounts often feature their dreamy love.
Partners In All
Recently Allison posted this photo on her Instagram page with the caption, “Feels good to get back at it! Got myself an East Coast training partner too! Couples who work out together, stay together.” How sweet is it that these two support each other in their respected sports, training including!
Melt Your Heart Love
Okay, so their relationship is what stardom is made of but it’s also just love. Pure and simple. You’ll often find Stokke at Fowler’s golf tournaments, loudly and proudly cheering on her white knight. It’s enough to make anyone blush with jealousy!
Started From The…
No doubt Allison Stokke dropped jaws back in 2007 but since then, she’s seriously come a long way. With all of the ups and downs that unwanted fame brings you, Stokke took it like a champ. In fact, she’s an idol to many, athletes and women alike.
What She Thinks
Only recently did Allison Stokke fully open up regarding her feelings about the viral photo that changed her life forever. “I feel like me and that picture are two different people. I feel it has taken on a life of its own.” We can’t even imagine what that’s like.
Oh, Allison went on to say the following as well, “It’s like that picture is my alter-ego and sometimes I feel like I use it for a positive force, and sometimes I just choose to leave it out there and not engage with it.” Logical.
Let’s mention that Cindy, Allison’s mom, also reflected about the effects all of Allison’s fame had on her. “I think I saw her grow up faster. She saw how the world can be, saw how some people can be really cruel, some people can be great. I think she realized, ‘I can’t be so concerned about what everyone else thinks; I have to pursue my career, my dream, and my sport.'”
It’s no secret that male athletes don’t have to worry over such mundane things as looks. Just about everyone is focused on their ability and skill. Even Stokke said, “I’ve never seen this viral thing happen to a male athlete who isn’t also already the best at what they do.” She goes on to add, “Yes, male athletes are also hailed for being incredibly attractive, but they’re usually top-ranked in the world, too.”
What She Wanted
Despite what everyone says, Allison Stokke is an athlete and a talented one at that. Over the years, she has conditioned herself to transform into what she needed to be so that she could achieve whatever she wanted.
I’m An Athlete
Allison’s mom says, “If she was going to be in the limelight, it was going to be because she was an athlete, and she knew that it became about her looks. She wanted to be known for her ability to pole vault. That’s what she wanted, and nothing more.”
Ahem, Allison Stokke has further said the following, “At Cal, I wrote about it once for a Sociology class. We were supposed to write about some deep thing that affected you emotionally, and then you had the option to share, or not share and delete it. And I didn’t share it. I deleted it. I wish I still had that somewhere because I think it would be very different now.”
Now if anyone were to ask Stokke what she would have said back then, back when the madness first kicked off, she would have said this: “My response back then, in 2008 — was I flattered? In some ways, sure. But I was overwhelmed, too. And I think my response to being overwhelmed was to just stay away from it entirely.”
After all these years, Allison has a different perspective on everything. “But now, I’m trying to figure out how to reclaim it and own it and push it in the right direction. And benefit from it — in terms of fueling my training.” Why not use it to your advantage, right?
A Life Of Its Own
Additionally, she said, “And if I try to ignore it, it will take on a life of its own. Which is what I did in college: ignore it. And I lost control of my own story.” We really commend Allison for taking something unwanted and trying to turn it into something good and positive.
Before Allison became an online sensation, not many people could even name a single pole-vaulter. Today, it’s a completely different story. Allison has been a great advocate for the sport, and today, many pole vaulting athletes are recognized and even known by name. But, with the good always comes the bad. In 2016 a list titled “The Hottest Women Pole Vaulters of the 2016 Rio Olympics” was released.
Give Up? Never
The last thing we want to say is, Allison Stokke is the definition of hard work. To this day, she’s still kicking butt and perfecting her craft. She’s teamed up with a new coach in Phoenix, Arizona, and she is getting closer to achieving her dreams of being an Olympic athlete.
Stokke has every intention on making the 2020 Olympic team and as determined as she is, we have total confidence we’ll be seeing her representing the United States soon enough. If not in 2020, then soon after!