Today, we're going to find out all about Allison Stokke, and what she's been up to in the many years since she went viral. She's still very involved in the sport of pole vaulting, but some of the others things she's been doing while you haven't been looking might surprise you.
In the age of images and stories going viral on the internet, a single picture can make somebody into an internet sensation overnight. They're famous for a few days, and then they disappear again. They're just tossed away whenever the latest thing to catch the internet's attention takes their place.
One such person who was elevated to fame in this way was a pole vaulting athlete by the name of Allison Stokke, who was noticed because of her beauty more than her athletic skill. For a few fleeting moments, she was everybody's favorite athlete, but then we all forgot her.
Pole vaulting has been a sport for a very long time, and is a fixture of every World Championships and Olympics. Many of us enjoy watching the sport on television, but few of us (outside of enthusiasts) could name a prominent pole vaulter. Allison Stokke changed all that.
Fame arrived early in her career - when the first pictures of her were circulated, she was still learning the trade as an amateur. She hadn't even decided whether to make a career out of the sport.
A Star Is Born
It all began for Stokke back at home in California, where she was born in March 1989. She was born to her parents Allan and Cindy, and has one brother; David. Growing up, she was normal as any other California girl.
Stokke's social media accounts have been online for years, and a search back through them suggests she had a totally normal upbringing - although the pictures suggest she definitely enjoyed being on the beach more than anywhere else!
A Beautiful Transaction
As is the case with so many people who go viral based on a picture, internet fame didn't do much for Stokke financially. Nor was she earning any money out of pole vaulting when she came to the world's attention; amateurs don't get paid anything at all!
Fortunately for Stokke, she's extraordinarily beautiful. Her good looks attracted the attention of several modeling agencies, and doing part-time modeling work helped her to pay her bills during her years of training.
It's All In The Family
Having athletic talent seems to be something of a family trait for the Stokkes. Allison got all of the attention, but her brother David has skills of his own. He represented the USA at international level in amateur gymnastics.
David was something of an inspiration for Allison; it's very hard to achieve a national rank as an amateur gymnast, and his success pushed her forward. She even tried gymnastics herself, but it wasn't for her. Her future involved a very different athletic discipline.
Gymnastics might not have ticked all the boxes for Stokke, but she did enjoy the competitive element of the sport. She knew that if she could find the right sport, her competitive nature would compel her to excel at it.
She tried out for many different sports at school. One in particular spoke to her. Stokke turned out to have a natural talent for pole vaulting - the type which simply can't be taught in other people. By the time she was fifteen, she was a specialist with the pole.
A Niche Market
As you can imagine, there are far fewer people competing in pole vaulting than there are in sports which are more popular with the public. That made progress quick and easy for Stokke. Still aged just 15, she became the national champion within her age group.
Stokke's winning vault in the national championships was an impressive 12.5 feet, which drew her first recognition in the national press. Her career was launched, but greater things would follow. This was just the beginning.
Winning the national championships gave Stokke a taste for success, and she wanted more. With her prominence in the sport firmly established, she allowed herself to begin to dream of Olympic success with her country. Nobody qualifies for the Olympics without pushing themselves to extremes.
Stokke had already broken records, but knew she had to continue improving. She broke the national record again in 2004, and improved yet again in 2005, this time clearing 13 feet and 5 inches.
She Was Still A High School Student
To add to the pressure she placed on herself to become an Olympian, Stokke still had high school to worry about. She was in her senior year, and dealing with a full academic schedule on top of all her sporting commitments.
Her fame as a viral sensation was yet to come, but she was becoming well known among those who followed pole vaulting closely. Her name began to circulate among the press, along with pictures. Fame was moving closer to her doorstep.
One Of The Most Beautiful Women In The World
2007 was the year that Stokke went viral around the world. She'd have liked to achieve her fame because of her obvious (and improving) skills as an athlete, but that wasn't to be the case.
The picture that launched her fame was simply a matter of good timing on the part of the photographer. He captured her at a relaxed moment, waiting for her next vault. In an instant, Stokke found herself labeled one of the most beautiful women in the world.
A Minor Disturbance
This was the picture that went viral - and for a lot of people reading this, it will be the only image of Stokke you've ever seen before. It first appeared on an online blog page which went by the name 'With Leather.'
As if the title of the blog wasn't creepy enough, Stokke was only seventeen years old when the picture was taken. That didn't stop the mostly-male readership of the blog making hundreds of lecherous comments about her.
Although the spread of the photo might have started on 'With Leather,' it didn't take long for better-known websites to get hold of it. It was soon in places visited by millions of people per day, including Reddit and Facebook. Stokke's admirers weren't just limited to men who found her attractive.
To Stokke's delight, many young women found her inspiring, and used her story as motivation to explore their own sporting ambitions. Some good was coming out of her accidental moment in the spotlight.
Going Viral Can Be Stressful!
Stokke hadn't chosen to go viral, but she soon found herself having to deal with all the attention that came along with it anyway. There were internet-based Allison Stokke fan clubs who wanted to speak to her, and commercial sponsors who wanted to endorse her.
Stokke realized that she now had an opportunity, but found all the sudden attention somewhat overwhelming. Underneath it all, she was still just a normal teenage girl. The glare of the spotlight took some getting used to.
Things Took A Turn
It didn't take long for her fame to start taking a sinister turn. People pored through her old social media pictures, and shared them on websites which existed to provide men with something to ogle. Some of the pictures were taken when she was much younger.
On top of all this, she was given the questionable award of 'Internet Crush of 2007.' Her looks weren't what she wanted to be known for, and she definitely didn't enjoy being an object of lust.
By this point, Stokke felt like she'd lost control of her own identity. Her pictures were turning up all over the internet, and in national newspapers. Everyone knew what she looked like, but nobody knew her story. To take back control of her own life, Stokke decided to speak to the press.
She accepted an invitation for an interview from the CBS television network, determined to present herself as a serious athlete. This was the first time Stokke had a deliberate interaction with the media.
A Little Help From Dad
The interview had some of the desired effect, but not all of it. Stokke spoke enthusiastically about her sporting ambitions, and also imparted some helpful tips for any prospective female athletes who wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Her words struck the right chord with her intended audience, but when the video was posted on YouTube, all of the comments were still about her looks instead of her talents. Discouraged by this, Stokke turned to her dad for some fatherly advice.
Any father would take whatever steps were necessary to protect their daughter, but Allison's father had a particularly useful profession for the task - he was a lawyer. People making disgusting comments about her now faced the threat of a lawsuit. Her dad also monitored social media and correspondence to keep an eye out for stalkers.
Unfortunately, women who look like Stokke often find themselves targeted by seriously deranged people. Her dad did whatever he could to make sure she stayed safe.
The Media Provided Support
Further support emerged from a somewhat unlikely source. CBS seemed to realize that they had a duty of protection toward the young star, and other young people in similar positions. CBS ran the interview again - this time with a warning.
In a specialist report, CBS made Stokke the focal point of a story about what happens when young women find their pictures taken advantage of on the internet, when they haven't asked for anyone to circulate those pictures.
It Started Affecting Her Performance
Despite the support, Stokke found that her enhanced profile was having a negative impact on her sporting career. She became nervous before competing at pole vaulting events, and the nerves had nothing to do with the competition.
Because she was constantly swamped by cameras and autograph-hunters whenever she turned up to an event, Stokke had developed a fear of crowds. She could never be sure that someone wouldn't try to hurt her, and the fear meant she wasn't enjoying being on the field anymore.
She Hated The Attention
As well as the sense of fear, Stokke was experiencing another emotional response to her fame - and it was another negative one. Because everyone was focusing on her looks and nothing else, she began to resent the attention.
Remember, all of this started because she wanted to be a world-class pole vaulter. She never asked to be a pin-up girl, and she had no intention of allowing that to become her career. She wanted to be known as an athlete.
The Upside? She Was Making Money
It wasn't all bad news for Stokke, though - she was already earning more than the majority of her pole vaulting competitors. Her media profile won her a series of endorsement deals with big-name sporting brands. So long as Stokke approved of the brand, she was happy to endorse their products for them.
This gave her enough money to go full time with the sport, and advertising sporting brands allowed her to be presented as a legitimate athlete instead of just a pretty face.
She Eventually Went To College
Just as much as she was a serious athlete, Stokke was a serious academic. High school was over, and it was time for her to turn her attention to college. Going into college allowed her to partially disappear from the public eye.
She didn't have to look far for a college - she enrolled close to home at the University of California. Throughout her studies, she continued with pole vaulting - now representing her university at events. She was a celebrated Golden Bear.
A Sociology Star
Away from the public eye, Stokke was able to relax and focus on improving herself yet again. She graduated from a sociology course with a Masters Degree, which confirmed she had a full package of brains, athletic prowess, and beauty.
Things were even better for her on the field. During her college years, she set a number of pole vaulting world records. She now had a decision to make - carry on as a pole vaulter, or find a job suited to her degree?
A Personal Best
There was only one way that the decision was ever going to go. Now she'd had the chance to fall in love with pole vaulting again, her vision of representing the USA at the Olympics had returned to her.
It was the only thing she wanted to do. By this time, the Olympics in London in 2012 were looming large. Stokke was desperate to make the team, and so she continued to push herself. She increased her personal best to a clearance of over fourteen feet.
Her Olympic Dreams Were Crushed
All the stars seemed to have aligned for Stokke by the time the Olympic qualifiers came around, but disaster struck. Seemingly crumbling under the pressure of realizing her dream, Stokke couldn't find her best form. The qualifying bar to make the Olympic team was fourteen feet.
Stokke had achieved that height before, but wasn't able to do it at the crucial moment. Cruelly, and by the smallest of margins, she missed out on the Olympics. The USA team went to London without her.
But She Had A Backup Plan
She didn't immediately accept it, but in her heart, she knew her Olympic dream was drifting away. There was still one way she knew she would always be able to make money, though - modeling. Stokke returned to the profession she'd pursued part-time as a 15-year-old.
She continued her athletic training alongside her modeling work, and also accepted new endorsement offers, choosing to maximize the value of her looks while she was still young. Nike was one of many brands who signed her up.
Viral The Second Time Around
Most people only go viral once, if ever at all. Stokke isn't like most people. She's actually gone viral twice, but the second time around it was all by her own choice. It came via a video spawned through her endorsement deal with GoPro - the camera company.
Stokke attached a GoPro to her pole, and recorded herself going through her pole vaulting training. The resulting promotional video once again captured the attention of the internet, and Stokke's name was on everybody's lips once more.
She Became A Businesswoman
Having experienced fame once before in her life, Stokke was more confident about dealing with it the second time around. She knew exactly what it involved, and exactly how she wanted to use it.
Managing her personal brand with the expertise of a seasoned businesswoman, Stokke made sure the endorsement deals kept rolling in. The next company in line was Uniqlo, who signed a deal with Stokke that involved her modeling their athletic clothing range. The camera loved her.
Love Is In The Air
Ever since she first found herself in the press, there had been speculation about Stokke's romantic status. There had never been a story about Stokke and a boyfriend, but in 2016 that was all about to change. Stokke started to get pictured with Rickie Fowler.
For a long time, Stokke said nothing about the status of her relationship with Fowler. The press had a field day speculating about whether they were friends or partners, but Stokke didn't seem interested in dignifying the gossip columns with a response.
He Was A Sports Star Too
If anyone knew a thing or two about how to deal with the media, it was Fowler. Fowler was a sporting star in his own right - he was one of the most highly-ranked professional golf players in the world, and he'd started young just like Stokke.
Stokke seemed to enjoy spending time with Fowler despite her having reason to envy him; he achieved her Olympic dream in 2016 when he headed to Brazil as part of the USA's golf team.
A Golfing Champion
Not only did Fowler make the USA's golf tour, but he was also picked for the Ryder Cup squad that year. He was having the best professional year of his life, but the media noticed something about him. As the rest of the players greeted their partners at the side of the court, Fowler was alone.
Fowler's response to being caught playing gooseberry was to look straight down the camera, shrug his shoulders and smile. That video went viral - giving him something else in common with Stokke.
Their Love Is Confirmed
It was around the time of the Ryder Cup that Stokke and Fowler were finally confirmed to be a couple, although they never announced it themselves. One of Fowler's teammates accidentally outed them during a televised interview.
Jason Day told the press that even though Fowler didn't have anyone to celebrate with at the side of the course, he did have a girlfriend waiting for him. Fowler missed a media call the next day, and Day again said he was with his girlfriend. The girl's identity was obvious.
A Rock Solid Couple
Relationships between young, attractive celebrities are frequent, and they're also frequently fleeting. Many young couples split up under the glare of a media scrum, but Stokke and Fowler had been quietly growing close for months in secret.
They were rock solid. Having had their relationship confirmed by accident, Stokke and Fowler realized the game was up, and that denying it would simply result in more headlines being written about them. They eventually decided to go with the flow and confirm their status.
She Supports Him
The Ryder Cup was the last time Fowler would appear at a golf tournament without his beau. Ever since then, Stokke has been a regular sight every time Fowler's competed at a major tournament.
We don't know how Stokke felt about golf before she met Fowler, but she certainly seems to have developed an enthusiasm for it now. She cheers him on enthusiastically from the sidelines, and sometimes even walks with him between holes. The couple is a big favorite of the golf press.
His Golfing Coach Had Doubts
Although the press and the public loved Stokke and Fowler together, their relationship did have one significant opponent - and it was someone Fowler had a lot of respect for. It was his golf coach!
The coach, who had ambitions to see his young student becoming the best golf player in the world, initially felt that a high-profile relationship with Stokke would be a distraction to Fowler. The coach went public with his thoughts, which was a little bit rude. Fowler didn't pay him any attention.
Stokke Was Still Training Hard
Throughout all of this, Stokke continued to train for the pole vault, and competed at local and national events. Fowler was clearly rubbing off on her though; on more than one occasion, she was spotted trying her hand at golf.
As Stokke has never entered any public golf competition that we're aware of, it's impossible to say whether she's any good at the sport or not. She couldn't possibly have a better tutor, so we imagine that she's picked up at least a few useful tips for him.
Her First Viral Fame Was More Than A Decade Ago
Now she's 30, Stokke's viral fame was half a lifetime ago. She didn't necessarily enjoy it at the time, but she eventually came to terms with it, and used it to further her career and her ambitions.
Since that famous picture was taken, she's seen highs and lows in life. She's broken world records, missed out on the Olympics, and fallen in love with a world-famous golfer. It's almost like we've watched her grow up from a distance.
She Still Dreams Of The Olympics
This isn't the end of her story, either. As we just said, she's still only 30. It's still possible for Stokke to make it to the Olympics, and she hasn't given up on trying. Her next opportunity will come up next year in Tokyo, at the 2020 Olympics.
In the past twelve months, Stokke's form has returned to its absolute best. She's regularly vaulting heights of above fourteen feet again, and that's the level she needs to be at to make the squad.
Now She Loves Fame!
She's had to make a few changes to reclaim her position at the top of the sport within the US, though. Her long-term coach had to go, and she's relocated to Phoenix to train with one of the most respected pole vaulting coaches in the world.
On top of that, she's overcome her aversion to fame. She resisted social media for a long time, but she now uses the same social media channels as everyone else. She even sometimes replies to messages from her adoring fans!
Fingers Crossed For Japan 2020
None of us know what's around the corner, and of course it can't be guaranteed that Stokke will make the Olympic squad this time around. If she doesn't, she'll probably have missed her final chance to achieve her Olympic dream. We hope it doesn't come to that though.
After all the work she's had to put in, and having nearly been chased out of the sport by unwanted attention during her teenage years, we feel like Stokke deserves a happy ending. Here's hoping it happens!
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