People love stories, particularly tales of greatness, and a major reason as to why the London 2012 Olympic Games held such thrall in Britain was the daily accounts of athletes finding the best of themselves.

Enn-chanting | Jessica Ennis storms to first place in the 200m, part of her hepthathlon glory at London 2012. (Image | Evening Standard)

Enn-chanting | Jessica Ennis storms to first place in the 200m, part of her heptathlon triumph at the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Image | Evening Standard)

We had yarns of the woman who grabbed her last chance of glory, Katherine Grainger; the chosen one adored by her public, Jessica Ennis; or the wounded king that ruthlessly crushed those who would usurp him, Usain Bolt. They were the legends of our time, not just athletes.

At least, this is what the media would like everyone to believe. It is often forgotten that sports journalists started out as fans – they have been in awe of great sporting achievements for decades.

Therefore it is understandable that events which appear to be insignificant are treated as having the utmost importance. It is because we love stories.

Over 2,000 years ago, civilisation had tales of Odysseus, Zeus, Sisyphus and Achilles. They were extraordinary stories with a chimeric narrative, produced in order to leave their audiences gasping in awe.

While the common day equivalent of this is the adventures of superheroes seen in comic books, there has been a trend for propelling successful athletes into a similar milieu. Why have fictional superheroes, when you can watch the real thing every weekend?

Perhaps this is linked to the rise of reality television. After all, sport has always been one of the greatest reality shows of all. Over the past few months Kevin Pietersen, Manti Te’o and Mario Balotelli have rarely escaped publicity.

Millions were recently glued to their sets for Lance Armstrong’s “confessional” interview with Oprah Winfrey, which was billed as a must-see event.

Live-strung | Lance Armstrong recently "told all" to television chat show host Oprah Winfrey regarding his doping ban. (Image | The Guardian)

Live-strung-up | Cyclist Lance Armstrong “tells all” to television chat show host Oprah Winfrey regarding his ban last year for systematic doping. (Image | The Guardian)

How the Tour De France would dream of garnering anything like the attention this interview received.

Such an unquenchable thirst for stories means that sporting figures are now positioned as characters in a rolling television soap without an end.

Can Manchester United quieten their noisy neighbours in the chase for the Premier League title? Is José Mourinho strong enough to survive the mutiny of his players at Real Madrid? Who will win the battle of the Harbaugh brothers at Super Bowl XLVII? Be sure to tune in to find out.

There is no doubt that the proliferation of sports coverage makes watching top-class athletes the closest many of us get to see extraordinary feats on a regular basis.

Yet assigning them the status of superheroes is unhealthy, for all involved. Sports stars may deserve praise, but heroes they are not.

A lot of the ire that has been directed towards Armstrong is as a result of how much we all bought into his legend. He beat his opponents, the French mountains, the supercilious treatment of a suspicious written press, and cancer.

Who needs Batman, because we have Lance. Now, everybody go out and buy a yellow wristband. To discover that his gains were ill-gotten meant more to us than just a man cheating, because our hero had let us down.

However, Armstrong was never a hero. And that is not because he took performance-enhancing drugs. Bradley Wiggins may not be called a hero either, nor may Ennis or Ellie Simmonds.

Sport has a ruinous tendency to assume that what a person does is proof positive of who they are, when the truth is that any link between the two is purely incidental.

Roger Federer is viewed as an exemplar of dignity and class. However, his conduct during the 2009 US Open Final suggests otherwise. It is very easy to be dignified when success is forthcoming.

This is not to castigate the Swiss or any other athlete. It is simply to reiterate the point that they are not gods floating on fluffy clouds for us all to marvel at.

Sportsmen and women walk among us, complex and multifaceted. They are not here for our entertainment, because sport is not entertainment: it merely happens to be entertaining.

The next time one of your sporting heroes lets you down, pause for thought, and do not excoriate them. To err is human. And that is all they are, human. There are no heroes here.

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