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Teen Tests Internet's Lewd Track Record

Allison Stokke
In her high school track and field career, Allison Stokke has won a 2004 California state pole vaulting title, broken five national records and earned a scholarship to the University of California. (Jonathan Alcorn for The Washington Post)

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For the first week, Stokke tried to ignore the Internet attention. She kept it from her parents. She focused on graduating with a grade-point average above 4.0, on overcoming a knee injury and winning her second state title. But at track meets, twice as many photographers showed up to take her picture. The main office at Newport Harbor High School received dozens of requests for Stokke photo shoots, including one from a risqué magazine in Brazil.

Stokke read on message boards that dozens of anonymous strangers had turned her picture into the background image on their computers. She felt violated. It was like becoming the victim of a crime, Stokke said. Her body had been stolen and turned into a public commodity, critiqued in fan forums devoted to everything from hip-hop to Hollywood.

After dinner one evening in mid-May, Stokke asked her parents to gather around the computer. She gave them the Internet tour that she believed now defined her: to the unofficial Allison Stokke fan page ( http://www.allisonstokke.com), complete with a rolling slideshow of 12 pictures; to the fan group on MySpace, with about 1,000 members; to the message boards and chat forums where hundreds of anonymous users looked at Stokke's picture and posted sexual fantasies.

"All of it is like locker room talk," said Cindy Stokke, Allison's mom. "This kind of stuff has been going on for years. But now, locker room talk is just out there in the public. And all of us can read it, even her mother."

An impostor created a fake profile of Stokke on Facebook, a social networking site intended mainly for college students. Stokke's classmates at Newport Harbor High School started receiving Facebook messages that seemed to be from Stokke -- except she typed in Southern jargon and listed her interests as only "BOYS!!!!"

Last week, Stokke wrote a complaint letter to Facebook, and it immediately took down the fake profile. She hasn't contacted any other Web sites, she said. Allan Stokke, a defense attorney, studied California's statutes so he would know if he saw or read anything about his daughter that went beyond distasteful to illegal.

"Even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning," Allison Stokke said. "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."

Last Friday night, Stokke stood underneath the stadium lights at Cerritos College here, 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. A few thousands fans had come to watch a postseason meet, and dozens of photographers and cameramen roamed the field. Before her first jump, Stokke tried to control her breathing as she chatted with her coach. A good jump here would qualify her for the state championship in Sacramento.

A former gymnast, Stokke had tried pole vaulting as a lark as a freshman in high school. Two months later, she set a school record. She won the 2004 state championship three months after that. Stokke had augmented her natural, pole-vaulting disposition -- speed, upper-body strength and courage -- by lifting weights three times each week. College programs including Harvard, Stanford and UCLA also recruited her.

During her meet at Cerritos College, Stokke cleared 11 feet, then 12 feet, then 13 feet and qualified for the state meet. By the time she stared ahead at a bar set 13 feet 6 inches, all other nine pole vaulters had maxed out. Stokke warmed up by herself, the only athlete left.

She loved pole vaulting because it was a sport built on intricacies. Each motion required calculation and precision. A well-executed vault blended a dancer's timing, a sprinter's speed and a gymnast's grace. "There's so much that happens in a vault below the surface," Stokke said.

As the sun set Friday night, Stokke positioned her pole as if she were jousting and sprinted about 100 feet toward the bar. She ran on her tip-toes, like she'd learned from ballet. As she approached her mark, Stokke bent her pole into the ground and coiled her legs to her chest. She lifted upward, twisting her torso 180 degrees as she passed over the bar. It was a beautiful clearance, and the crowd stood to applaud.

Back on the ground, her vault accomplished, Stokke smiled and took in the scene around her. In the stands and on the field, she was surrounded by cameras. And for a second Stokke wondered: What, exactly, had they captured? And where, exactly, would it go?


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