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17th Jun 2024

18-year-old dies in tragic accident weeks before Olympic debut

Zoe Hodges

Paris Olympics

An 18-year-old Tongan athlete, who was set to make history at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games has died in a diving accident, just weeks before he was due to make his debut at the games.

According to The Sun, Jackson James Rice was set to become the first Caucasian to represent Tonga at an Olympic Games after qualifying for the inaugural kitefoiling event.

Rice died in Faleloa, Tonga on Saturday from a suspected shallow water blackout. Local news outlet Matangi reported that his body was found under the boat he had been free diving from at 12.15 local time and that resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.

In a tribute posted on Facebook, his sister Lily said: “I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he’s passed away.

“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, who was born in the US to British parents, Darren and Nina Rice, grew up in Ha’apai, Tonga, where his parents operate Matafonua Island Lodge, a popular tourist lodge.

He qualified for the Olympic Games after finishing in eighth place at a Sail Sydney event back in December of last year.

As stated by the Association of National Olympic Committees, kitefoiling is a sport which combines aspects of sailing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing and paragliding into one extreme sport.

Rice had recently been training and competing across Europe in preparation for his Olympic debut.

The 33rd edition of the Olympic Games kicks off in Paris on July 26 and it is the first time the event has been a part of the games.

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