Desert Island Discs (Radio 4)

Kirsty Young loses her cool with Michael Johnson.

Desert Island Discs
Radio 4

The Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson was on Desert Island Discs (21 October, 11.15am), giving just the right kind of information, with an ineffable air of suspicion and a pragmatic acceptance of his gift. He said that, in ten years, he had never missed a day of training and that he remains woefully strategic and unspontaneous, but loves his wife, his son and his wine. He confessed that his parents can sometimes be found watching old videos of his performances, sitting there, still incapable of quite believing their eyes. He remembered being teased as a child for his upright way of running. "They called you a duck?" gasped Kirsty Young. "Sure," he said, as cool as if he were rolling down an electric window. "But, I was a fast duck."

In the introduction to the programme, even the announcer had primly described Johnson's running style as "peculiar", which could only send listeners straight to YouTube to search for a reminder. And there he is on the track in Seville ("Ay Dios mio, su increíble!"), legs literally running away with him, ever so slightly pulling the ramrod body behind, the neat moustache, the highly polished earring and gold chain. Simply, he ran as he as always behaved: straight.

It was something to hear how he managed to calm Kirsty, who at first was putting out phrases like "such a difficult thing for us mere mortals to understand" and "physical perfection . . . a different species", like a slightly demented visitor to a golfing range. But after Johnson said, firmly, "People overexaggerate the life of an athlete," she changed her voice somewhat to match his character.

All this was a relief, because I'd been put off the programme entirely since May, when the artist Molly Parkin thundered on, delivering lines with a mouth that seemed not to be attached to any believable human body. "I am a very spiritual person"; "I am a sublime grandmother"; "I've never been rejected by anyone". Nothing seemed capable of stopping this torrent, which concluded thus: "I know I'm a writer, I know I'm a poet, I know I'm a painter. I move amongst these people!"

Hearing Young's laugh then - cheek-muscle-fluttering, forced - was lowering. Like empty beer cans falling.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Young, angry...and right?