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HERB BENHAM: Take this one together

I hadn’t thought about the Olympics before last Friday. Not Thursday either, the day before, when a friend asked if I was looking forward to them.

The Olympics? When do they start? Are they still in Japan?

The Olympics is like a three-week road trip. I’m in when the car has been gassed, washed and packed. Better yet when the valley is in the rear-view mirror and there is nothing but blue sky ahead.

Friday morning Sue and the grandkids were watching the opening ceremonies when I came downstairs. They were stylish, moving and had the wry, innocent sense of humor that I associate with the Japanese but may have nothing to do with the Japanese but take credit anyway.

How about the video clips of the torch handoff during the opening ceremony? Old people, young people, able people, not able people. It was perfect that Naomi Osaka, the great Japanese-American tennis player who has gone public about her battle with depression, was the final leg on the relay team and lit the cauldron in the stadium. She represented the broken people and most of us have been there in some fashion. If we’re lucky, we’ve healed too. Healing should be an Olympic sport in itself.

What became clear is we may never need an Olympic games more than this one. A chance to come together and celebrate. The opportunity to put aside our worries because as somebody said, “If there were ever games especially devoted to escape and play, this is it.”

Some disagree and maybe with good reason but we cannot cancel life indefinitely. Humans aren’t built like that. We’re weak, soft, but human too.

Consider the last few years: We’ve avoided people, argued with people, wondered why people do what they do and if we didn’t have reasons to be at odds, we were capable of inventing some.

Sports are something on which we can agree, or disagree but if we do differ, still eat dinner together. We can cheer, boo and act silly. Sports bring out the child in us.

Does it matter who wins or where they come from? What’s more important is that sports are familiar and they are in our bones.

Sports, many of which are familiar and some are not, which does not make them less welcome. Three-on-three basketball. That’s been a mainstay in public parks all over the world and people play it with the intensity of an Olympic sport so it’s about time. Canoe slalom, canoe sprint, BMX freestyle, BMX racing, skateboarding, sport climbing, surfing, artistic swimming and trampoline gymnastics.

All of them are hard but some seem whimsical like what the heck, let’s add them because it will be more fun.

Talk about fun. Rowdy Gaines, the swimming commentator and ex-competitor going nuts during every race. Getting excited about a swimming race may not mean much on the cosmic level but it seems like part of our healing now.

Who doesn’t like the heartwarming Olympic stories like Rikako Ikee, the Japanese swimmer who overcame leukemia to be there. Talk about inspiring. If she can, we can or we can give it a big swing.


I was a sucker for the version of "Imagine'" sung by the Japanese Youth Choir, Keith Urban, John Legend, Alejandro Sanz and Angélique Kidjo during the opening ceremonies. Check out the Olympics tweet of the performance if you didn’t see it and unless your heart is harder than a block wall, you may choke up too.

Choosing to celebrate and come together again is an act of faith as well as imagination. This is a step worth taking and one worth taking together.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.


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