18-Year-Old Rising Star Athlete Dies a Month Before He Was to Compete in Olympics


An 18-year-old kitefolier who was set to represent the South Pacific country of Tonga in this summer’s Paris Olympics died over the weekend in a diving accident.

J.J. Rice, born Jackson James Rice in the U.S. to British parents, was raised on the islands and was set to become the first white athlete to represent the country in an Olympic event, according to Matangi Tonga Online.

Rice was free diving from a boat when he died from what the outlet called “a suspected shallow water blackout.”

Divers retrieved his body from the waters off the coast of Faleloa, Ha’apai.

Attempts to administer lifesaving first aid were not successful, Rice’s father, Darren Rice, told the outlet.

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In a Facebook post flagged by the Tongan media, Rice’s sister, Lily Rice, paid tribute to her late brother, who was only weeks away from competing in Europe.

She commented that she had no doubt he would have brought some hardware back to the small Polynesian country.

“I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he’s passed away,” she wrote.

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Lily Rice added, “I’m going to miss everything about him he was so talented and was amazing at everything he tried he was an amazing kitefoiler and he would have made it to the Olympics and come out with a big shiny medal.”

An Instagram page for Rice showed he spent a great deal of his time on the water:


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A post shared by Jackson James Rice (@jj__rice)


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A post shared by Jackson James Rice (@jj__rice)

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View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jackson James Rice (@jj__rice)

When Rice was not preparing for the coming Olympics — which he qualified for in December — he was said to have enjoyed playing video games and helping others.

According to Matangi Tonga, Rice risked his own life on two separate occasions to save others who were in danger of drowning.

At age 15, he swam out into the open water after witnessing a ferryboat capsize with 18 people aboard.

In another act of bravery, Rice was said to have swam out to two teen girls who had been swept out to sea from a sandbar.

The teen rescued both girls.

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.