Those who know Jeff Hastings well say he is the last person to take credit for anything, no matter how hard he’s worked or how much he’s accomplished.
Recognition is not something the Norwich native seeks out, despite an accomplished career in ski jumping as an athlete and an Olympic broadcaster with NBC.
That’s a difficult thing to keep up when others see you as a vital centerpiece for a sport in the process of rebuilding its national image.
Hastings was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame on April 8 in Stowe, Vt. The honor, Hastings said this week, caught him completely off-guard.
“It’s a hard thing to have a reaction to,” he said. “Ski jumping has been a huge part of my life since forever. To get recognition like this, it’s something I never could have dreamed of. It’s an enormous honor.”
Hastings, a Hanover High graduate, began skiing at 4 years old and was part of the Ford Sayre ski jump program in Hanover growing up. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts to continue his ski jumping pursuits before joining the U.S. Ski Team. Hastings qualified for the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, where he finished in fourth place, setting a modern American record. He also is a four-time U.S. national ski jumping champion.
After his Olympic stint, Hastings took to the broadcast booth, where he has worked as a network ski jumping expert at every Olympics since the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. That streak will come to an end next year at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but Hastings, 57, said he’s happy that he’s been able to stay involved in the sport for so long.
“(Broadcasting) is not something that comes naturally to me,” he said. “To have that front-row seat with a credential, to watch the sport up close and watch its athletes develop, to keep that connection to the sport was really exciting to be a part of.”
Rex Bell, a ski jumping coach for the U.S. team from 1980-88, lauded Hastings for his contributions to the sport.
“Jeff is one of the most successful ski jumpers of all time. Certainly in the modern era. He and Mike Holland are the best ski jumping athletes the U.S. has ever produced,” Bell said. “Beyond his success on the playing field, so to speak, he’s someone who has meant a tremendous amount to the sport in the form of developing and creating programs.”
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association cut funding for ski jumping in 2010 and Nordic combined events in 2014. Bell — the vice chairman and member executive of USA Nordic, the organization now responsible for developing future ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes — said Hastings was heavily involved in getting it started.
“The way of thinking, the culture, is in large part shaped by Jeff and his attitude,” Bell said. “When we talked about whether to go ahead and form this organization and what the priorities should be, we agreed that one of the big focuses should be on the grassroot programs and to really get back to the basics.
“Jeff was the most passionate,” he added. “He really took it upon himself to create all these really cool, fun programs to help recruit kids and keep them involved. He’s been doing it all this time, quietly and behind the scenes, not asking for help.”
Hastings has helped organize the USANS Story Project, a ski jumping and Nordic combined blog where he acts as a curator for shared photos and stories throughout the season.
He’s also helped start an online event called Virtual Nationals, where youth athletes from across the country submit videos of their jumps to be judged by former and current Olympians.
“The sport of ski jumping is kind of a niche sport. It’s certainly a minor sport,” Bell said. “But we’re beginning to see, in part because of the programs Jeff has created and the efforts of this organization providing advance training opportunities, success at the international level.”
Outside of the sport, Hastings has used his organizational skills for philanthropic purposes. He devised the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hero Half Marathon while he was a volunteer board member for Friends of CHaD in 2006, and now serves as its race director.
“Not only is he a ski Hall of Famer, he’s also a CHaD Hero Hall of Famer,” said Sharon Brown, director of community relations at CHaD. “He’s continued to not only be the brains, but the brawn. ... It’s our single biggest event; last year we raised $800,000.
“It’s an amazing event because Jeff keeps pushing us to think bigger, better, stronger,” she added.
Hastings, who works full-time at Pro-Cut International in Lebanon, said he is looking forward to putting more of a focus on family and work and that watching the Olympics next year will be surreal after so many years on the air.
“I think we hit bottom and we’re coming back,” Hastings said of ski jumping. “It’s an incredibly unique sport, an individual sport in a team environment. It’s a lot like life. You’re not competing against other people, you’re competing alongside them. ... It’s never going to be football or golf; it wouldn’t be suited for that. But it will continue in pockets. It’s a great sport for parents and kids.”
Josh Weinreb can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.