Tonga Olympian, 18, gearing up for Paris Games, dead in diving accident


J.J. Rice, a U.S.-born kitefoiler who was set to represent Tonga in the upcoming Paris Olympics, died in a diving accident over the weekend, his father said. He was 18.

Jackson James Rice was set to be the first Caucasian to represent Tonga in the Olympics. He died at Faleloa on the island of Ha’apai in Tonga. His father, Darren Rice, confirmed his son’s death in the Matangi Tonga newspaper.

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The Paris Olympic Games logo is being displayed on a smartphone with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games icon visible in the background in this photo illustration in Brussels on May 11, 2024. (Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he’s passed away,” Lily Rice, J.J.’s sister, wrote in a Facebook post. “He was an amazing kitefoiler and he would have made it to the Olympics and come out with a big shiny medal. He made so many amazing friends all over the world.”

Rice was free diving from a boat when he suffered a suspected shallow water blackout, according to Matangi Tonga. 

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A close-up of the “Paris 2024” logo on the Phryge mascot’s stuffed toy as part of 9th stage of the Olympic Torch Relay in Toulouse, southwest of France, May 17, 2024. (PAT BATARD/Hans Lucas/AFP via Getty Images)

Rice was born in the U.S. but grew up on Ha’apai, where his parents run a tourist lodge. He finished in eighth place in the Sail Sydney event in December to earn a spot in the Olympics. Since then, he had been training and competing in Europe before the accident.

Kitefoilers compete on boards that are lifted off of the water on foils and can reach speeds of more than 30 mph.

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About 40 kitefoilers are set to compete in the Olympics this summer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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