Olympic champions are looked upon as infallible, superhuman beings who can achieve anything they put their mind to.
Their extraordinary feats in the stadium, in the pool or in the velodrome are the culmination of what for them has been days, weeks, month and years of sacrifice.
To the supporter in the stands or back at home in the comfort of their armchair, these athletes are our heroes.
They have lived life in the sporting bubble, yes, but what a life that must have been.
Olympians get to do what they love for a living, and if they’re the very best at it, they get handsomely rewarded.
So when we learn there is a vulnerability to our champions, or superstars, it takes a moment to digest.
That these iconic sporting stars are in fact just as mortal, human and vulnerable as the rest of us is difficult to comprehend.
That Jessica Ennis, the face of London 2012, the darling of British sport, was racked by anxiety in her youth, brought on by bullying, is hard to fathom.
Yet it is this revelation that leaps off the page of Ennis’s autobiography Unbelievable, which was released last week.
Ennis, a champion so striking, so outwardly confident and self-assured, spent much of her youth battling inner and external demons.
“I am crying,” she writes in the very first chapter. “I am a Sheffield schoolgirl writing in her diary about the bullies awaiting me tomorrow.
“They stand menacingly by the gates and lurk unseen in my head, mocking my size and status. They make a small girl shirk, and I feel insecure and frightened.
“I pour the feelings out into words on the page, as if exposing them in some way will help, but nobody sees my diary.”
She revisits the topic later in the chapter, the issue of her tormentors being a constant theme of a childhood that took her from Sharrow Junior School to King Ecgbert Secondary School in Sheffield.
“I was small and scraggy and that was when the bullying started,” continues Ennis. “There were two girls who were really nasty to me. They did not hit me, but bullying can take on many forms and the abuse and name-calling hurt...At that age, girls can be almost paralysed by their self-consciousness, so each nasty little word cut deep wounds.”
Sitting in a plush management suite at Meadowhall Shopping Centre a decade or so later, just hours after the launch of her book and a matter of months after her crowning glory in London, Ennis could be forgiven for sticking two fingers up at those bullies who will have done well to have enjoyed a quarter of the success she has enjoyed in her adult life.
But being smug is not the purpose for Ennis, now 26 and at the peak of her powers. She did not have to win world, European and now the Olympic title to prove anything to anyone, other than herself.
But those struggles of her childhood did provide a source of inspiration, and as she puts it, athletics was her way of getting her ‘own quiet revenge on the bullies’.
“There’s lots of things that motivated me in the past and that’s one of them,” says Ennis.
“Because I’m Olympic champion I’m not this superhuman person, I still go through the same things that probably most kids go through at school.
“Some of the girls really picked up on the fact that I was small and skinny and even when I started sport, particularly the heptathlon, I was still getting people saying you’re too small and you won’t be good at this event because of your height.
“They were motivational factors in themselves and the bullying was a big motivational factor for me.”
Given her past torment, Ennis could easily have lapsed into a state of self-pity on the eve of this summer’s Olympics when an un-named UK athletics director described her as ‘fat’.
The misguided accusation was plastered all over the media, and even though it was largely discredited, Ennis – who refused to give it any merit at the time by saying much about it – treated it more as an irritation than anything else.
“I was not bothered about the stories personally,” she writes. “I was happy with how I was performing and was happy with my body so I felt secure in myself.
“However, it did make me think about the messages that the story was sending out to kids. They probably looked at me and thought I was really skinny, so to hear that people regard me as fat could create issues, not for me but for other people.”
And therein lies the heart of the matter. Ennis has penned her life story not to boast about her accomplishments, but to inspire the younger generation.
As one of only a select few British women to have won an Olympic title in athletics, she appreciates the added responsibility that brings.
“A lot of people that follow me are younger kids,” she says. “They get so excited when they see me. It’s a weird feeling when people get excited to see you.
“But hopefully I’ve inspired them and I want them to see my journey.
“There are some down parts in the book but there’s a lot of positive things.
“That’s what it’s like as an athlete, with the ups and downs. You experience these amazing highs with winning and then awful lows when you’re injured or things aren’t going your way. Especially for kids that are sporty – especially athletics or heptathlon – they can see through the statistics part in the back of the book the results I was getting as I was progressing from under 15s to under 17s to under 20s.
“They can compare, and it’s things like that which I really enjoyed doing with the book.
“It’s my journey through all the championships down the years; the coach-athlete relationship with Chell (Toni Minichiello). I just thought it would be nice for them to read and if they can relate to it in any way then that’s really good.”
The writing process was a rewarding one for Ennis. Her story has been littered with peaks and troughs, never more so than with two Olympic Games, the one she missed through injury in 2008 and the one she dominated so thrillingly, so convincingly, four years later.
Since that memorable night for British sport of Saturday, August 4, Ennis has quite rightly been milking the acclaim for all it is worth. After the hour-upon-hour of training on cold winter mornings in the Steel City, why not make guest appearances on Celebrity Juice, sign copies of her book and jet off on a whim to Abu Dhabi for a Formula 1 Grand Prix?
Such pleasures she denied herself in the run-up to the biggest event of her life, fearful that without maximum concentration she would not fulfil the childhood dream she refers to in her book.
Ennis says: “I’m definitely allowing myself to enjoy it, that’s one thing I would regret if I left myself no time to enjoy it or celebrate and just went and trained and trained and nothing else.
“As a sports person you’re at the top of your game for such a short time and then someone else comes up and you’re old news, so you have to make the most of it.
“I never really thought about what it would be like after the Olympics, but it has been brilliant. It’s just such a nice feeling to know I’ve not got any major regrets from this year. If I would have come away with a silver I would have been depressed for the rest of my life, it would have been such a downer. Now I don’t worry about that, it worked out so well and I’m just enjoying life after it.”
And after the professional high of 2012 comes the personal high of 2013, when Ennis marries her long-time sweetheart Andy. She is coy about the wedding date, determined for it not to be made public.
“We’ve been ticking things off and preparing things,” she says of the day her and Andy – who used to refer to her as “Little Jess” before starting dating Ennis in her late teens – will tie the knot.
“It’s nice now that the Olympics are out of the way that I can focus on it.
“I want it to be private, just close friends and family enjoying the day and having a good party in the evening.”
For all the exposure before and after London, there is nothing Ennis treasures more than a little down time.
The public sees Jessica Ennis as the woman who we cried with when injury robbed her of an Olympic debut in Beijing, who we rejoiced with when she won the world title 12 months later in Berlin. She is the queen of British athletics who we roared on until we were hoarse as she tore down the home straight in the 100m hurdles in the Olympic Stadium, so setting in motion a heptathlon of near-perfection over two memorable days in August.
But the real Jessica Ennis is the vulnerable girl who endured name-calling and taunts in her childhood, who relishes nothing more nowadays than a little private time with her fiancé Andy, Labrador Myla and close family and friends.
“It’s nice that I do enjoy doing certain things, like going to awards ceremonies and experience that side of life,” she says.
“At the same time I equally enjoy being at home, walking the dog, chilling out in my pyjamas and doing nothing.
“I never want to lose that part of my life, it is nice to have that private part.”
Unbelievable by Jessica Ennis is out now published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20. Jess will be signing copies at Waterstones, Albion Street, Leeds on Tuesday, November 20, at 4.30pm, 0843 290 8443 and at Waterstones Orchard Square, Sheffield on Thursday, December 13, at 5.30pm. 0114 272 8971.