How pole vaulter Allison Stokke’s career nearly ended because of one innocent picture

When she was seventeen, one of her pictures went viral

Allison Stokke has made a name for herself as a gifted pole vaulter and fitness model, but this hasn’t always been the case. When she was just seventeen years old, she went viral, and not for reasons of her own choosing.

Famous in sports

When you’re an athlete, you obviously want to be famous simply for being the best, preferably without any scandals or negativity related to your private life. Athletes are all about sports, hard work, and talent. Still, athletes may run into situations that turn their entire lives upside down, leading them to garner fame for all the wrong reasons. This is exactly what happened to Allison Stokke when she was seventeen years old.

High school

During her time in high school, Allison discovered her passion for pole vaulting. Even during her education, people had great expectations for her. There was even talk about pole vaulting at the absolute highest level and participating in prestigious tournaments. Ultimately, she got her place in the spotlight for vastly different reasons.

First record

Hard work. That’s all Stokke focussed on, hoping to make a name for herself for her amazing athletic feats. When she’d only just started earning her marks in pole vaulting in 2004, she immediately reached huge succes, as she broke a record with a jump measuring 3,86 metres. This achievement was the single highest jump ever by a fifteen year old American.

The path to success

Of course, Stokke’s performance in 2004 was only a precursor to very promising career. Despite this strong start, the career path she had in mind would turn out to be not quite so simple.

As a top athlete, your entire life revolves around working towards that one particular match or tournament. And when it’s done, you start all over again. The main difference being that expectations are even higher. The same held true for Stokke: while her 2004 record was very impressive, it was really only the beginning.


Stokke quickly lived up to those expectations. At the end of her first year in athletics, she won the CIF California State Championship, and this definitely wouldn’t be her last time reaching success. She exceeded great expectations, but would unknowingly also continue to course toward a turning point in her career.


Athleticism permits a lot of means to improve performance. The ever-ongoing striving for perfection and hard work, however, has a shadow side, and any setbacks may not make for an easy recovery. Stokke strived to better her previous record. She wanted to continu on her path and ended up breaking her personal record with a massive jump, reaching 4,11 metres. This end result garnered her high school another sports record in their name. Additionally, it was the best jump ever by a sixteen year old American.

A setback

After a few years of achievements and success, tides turned for Stokke. She experienced a massive setback, which led her to doubt her own safety while pole vaulting.


Athleticism is about more than just pure physical power. Ultimately, you have to know the tools of the trade in order to avoid any accidents. This would be a lesson Stokke learned the hard way.


Despite the incredibly success of her early career, Stokke’s health took a serious blow with an injury.

As they say: ‘The sky is the limit.’ Many athletes live by this mantra, Stokke included. 2005 Would see her become one of the most successful pole vaulters in history. However, this success came to an abrupt halt due to an accident during practice.


During practice, our regional pole vaulting champion picked up a pole larger than she’d used up until that point. However, this didn’t end well.

Stokke got some serious air, but failed to reach the angle required to send her towards the landing platform. Instead, she hurtled back into the concrete launching platform. This was her first major setback.

Fractured shinbone

Athletics require constant focus and apprehension. Anything could go wrong at any given time, and serious injuries could end your career in one blow. This is the exact type of fear Stokke must have experienced when she was diagnosed with a broken shin bone.

She had to undergo surgery, and the reigning state champion of California had to sit out the entire rest of the pole vaulting season. According to Stokke herself, she was incredibly disappointed, as she wanted to double her state titles.


Recuperating from this injury was a long and arduous journey of four to six months. During this time period, Stokke grew increasingly worried about her career path.

However, the athlete quickly proved that it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up. She turned up at the CIF California State Meet, only to win the tournament, again besting her previous record with a jump measuring 4,14 metres. Additionally, her performance in this state tournament allowed her to rise to the second place on the national ranking for high school athletes.

Junior Nationals

The talented athlete ended her year and high school career with an incredible eighth spot at Junior Nationals. After getting recognition for this remarkable achievement, her career once again took a turn.

The wrong kind of attention

Life as a star means a life in the spotlights. This also holds true for top athletes. Image leaks continue to happen on a regular basis, and can deal serious damage to your image. After her amazing accomplishments at Junior Nationals, Stokke garnered a lot of national attention. However, this attention quickly took a slightly different turn.

As early as 2007, Stokke’s athletic prowess was getting overshadowed by attention she wasn’t exactly keen on. Chances for her to reach fame for all the wrong reasons kept increasing, and would forever influence the career of this young athlete.

The picture

Media will always have a massive influence on how we get to see certain images. This would also pose a serious risk to Stokke’s image. During a tournament in New York City, a journalist took a picture of the young athlete. The image got posted online and was all about what Stokke wanted to be known for: her pole vaulting talent. However, when the image got into the wrong hands, it took on a whole different meaning.

Matt Ufford

Allison Stokke had only just turned 18, and garnered some attention for the wrong reasons. Sports blogger Matt Ufford got his hands on the innocent picture for his blog With Leather. This blog was known for its disconcerting views on female athletes, with very little regard for their actual athletic achievements. As soon as Matt got his grubby hands on the pictures, he turned his attention to her and posted an article titled “Pole Vaulting is Sexy, Barely Legal”. It quickly went viral.


This was a nightmare come true for Stokke. She’d only just turned eighteen years old, having only been seventeen when the unfortunate picture was taken. This rendered the article on Ufford’s blog even more worrying considering his main focus was the seventeen year old’s physical attractiveness. Additionally, commenters underneath the article took it even further with their often sexually charged commentary on Stokke’s body.

The photographer

The popularity of the image combined with Ufford’s sexualising commentary and his readers’ comments were seen as rather worrying by many. Among those worried was the photographer who took the original picture. In an attempt to take back the power, the photographer threatened to sue Ufford if he refused to delete the picture.

However, this photographer’s efforts were too little, too late, as the picture had already spread to dozens of other site. Suddenly, Stokke was no longer known for her pole vaulting talents. Instead of talking about her incredible achievements, many on the internet were now simply posting sexually charged comments regarding her looks at seventeen years old.

Websites and pages

Adding even further insult to injury, a new website was quickly launched. This site was filled with pictures of Stokke, meant for an audience that had very little interest in her athletic skills. Additionally, several fan pages for Stokke were set up and the entire story snowballed even further when US media decided to report on the story. The fact that Stokke became the victim of something she had zero say in became very clear once she’d turn out to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Around the world

Media all over the world ended up reporting on the story. Stokke’s misfortune was used as a warning tale against the dangers of the internet. Strangers kept pestering her with messages requesting pictures. Ultimately, she ended up hiring a media consultant, to turn the focus back to her athletic achievements.

Not illegal

As Stokke’s father worked as a lawyer, he took it upon himself to look for ways to take legal measures. Unfortunately, none of the things that happened to Stokke would qualify as being illegal. Stokke has remarked the entire experience for her has largely been humiliating. She worried no one saw her as an athlete anymore. Instead, she’d become a sex symbol against her own will.

A fresh start

Stokke couldn’t wait to leave her high school career behind. She was eager to start a new chapter in her life, but how easy would this be after all this negative press? She initially waited for offers from talent scouts, but ended up making her own path.


Ultimately, she decided to attend to the Berkely University of California. Stokke was offered an athletics scholarship and would get to train with one of the most well respected coaches in the business: Scott Clover. During her years at Berkely, she trained hard to reach her former levels of success.

Back to success

Allison Stokke broke the freshman record for the school with a great jump measuring 4,11 metres. This was followed by placing eighth at the Pac-10 Championships, and a seventh place at the MPSF Indoor Championships. All this lead to Stokke debuting with the NCAA Women’s Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, where she reached a nineteenth position in the final rankings. Stokke evidently worked hard for her success, but whether this was enough…

Another twist

During her second year at Berkely, Stokke again improved her personal record with another 10 centimetres. Despite her hard work, her career ended up taking a different turn. She showed no improvement at the Pac-10 Championships and MPSF Indoor Championships. Later, she again failed to beat her previous performance at the Pac-10 and she failed to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Allison Stokke was now no longer at the top of the pole vaulting game.


However, Allison Stokke again refused to give up. Soon after finishing university, she started aiming for the Olympics. She had broken a personal record and Stokke had a good chance of qualifying. Eventually, she managed to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. During these trials the athlete only failed to meet the requirements for the starting height.


The Olympic dream was dashed and Stokke decided to turn her career around. She started to do modeling for sportswear and performance marketing. In 2015 she signed her contract with Nike and a year later with Uniqlo. Finally, there was a glimmer of happy in Stokke’s life again.

Pole vaulting

Pole vaulting has always been part of her career. She partnered with GoPro to record her pole vaulting. Stoke continued to compete regularly and achieved excellent results. Although Stoke was no longer at the top, she had other positive prospects.

Richie Fowler

In 2017, while she was still working as a model and competing in various pole vault competitions, the athlete started a relationship with professional athlete Richie Fowler. The athletic couple got married and Allison Stokke quit pole vaulting completely. Her love for the sport never disappeared.


Allison Stokke has had an impressive career with many setbacks. In the end, things seem to be going well for the former top athlete and it looks like she has a happy future ahead of her.

Source: Soolide | Image: BrunoPress, Instagram

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