• An ordinary man with an extraordinary talent... Nairo Quintana. (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The public's appetite for a good story has, in recent times, given rise to unrealistic expectations on our sports stars to offer something that isn't there, and misconceptions about who they really are, writes Anthony Tan.
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8 Jul 2015 - 10:16 PM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2015 - 10:18 PM

I've only done a single one-on-one interview with Tony Martin (it was way back in his High Road days), though having attended numerous press conferences after he's won (almost always a time trial stage), I can tell you his words don't leave much to the imagination.

I now realise it's not so much because he's atypically boring or has a boring voice (though in that typically Germanic way, it is rather monotonal); it's because for much of his teenage and adult life, he's been so singularly focused.

"Perhaps, just perhaps, we should readjust our expectations, because beyond the bike, there is little that separates them from us."

Such is his drive to be the best he can be, Martin hasn't allowed himself time for much (if any) extracurricular activities beyond the bike.

His Twitter bio says it all: "Pro Cyclist with Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team".

(Geez, he hasn't even found a minute to change 'Omega Pharma' to 'Etixx'!)

A journalist recently wrote about high-performing sportsmen, "Interviewing a sports star can be a tricky business. The single-mindedness required for anyone to progress to the top of their game can prove limiting in terms of life experience beyond the pitch (or field, or court, or track).

"Sportspeople have little else to talk about because sportspeople do little else. The winner mentality rarely encompasses a broad spectrum of human emotions. Fear of upsetting a sponsor with an ill-judged remark means that - assuming any of them did have a searing insight into the human condition, or even just an amazing anecdote - they'd be too nervous to risk it."

The irony was that the journalist I quoted was writing a story about Shane Warne.

By contrast, 'Warnie', observed the interviewer, appeared to relish the opportunity to provide an account of his life beyond cricket. Though look what it took to get him that 'colour': bullying his opponents to the point where one (South African Daryll Cullinan) required therapy, infidelity, serial sexting, a failed marriage, a three-year (failed) relationship with a former British supermodel...

Sure, it makes for juicy tabloid copy - but really, does it make him more interesting or well-rounded?

In our desire to make some of our elite athletes more multi-dimensional than they actually are, certain media outlets have embellished their backstories to the point where they are no longer true.

A classic example is Nairo Quintana.

Prior to this year's Tour and still now, almost every feature story written about the 25-year-old from Boyacá in the Central Colombian mountains begins along the lines of, 'So destitute was his family, from age 10, young Nairo was forced to ride 10 miles (16 kilometres) to school and back each day, with the return route all uphill.'

Truth is, and as Quintana is at pains to point out himself, his family was not destitute, and by most Colombian standards, not even poor. Modest, yes, but by no means living on Struggle Street.

Furthermore, it was his choice to ride his bike to school and back each day; he wanted to ride - just like he does today.

Where am I going with this?

I'm not sure, really... Other than to say that sometimes, we expect too much (from a purely athletic standpoint, we already expect a lot) and perhaps, just perhaps, we should readjust our expectations, because beyond the bike, there is little that separates them from us.

Yes, that's it: Instead of perpetuate stories that are simply untrue to turn them into larger-than-life heroes, let's just admire the dedication and focus of people like Tony Martin and Nairo Quintana, and salute them for doing what they do, which, if you've seen the last three days of the Tour de France, is compete in the toughest game there is.

And when they do what der Panzerwagen did Tuesday to Cambrai, stand up and applaud them for it.