Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
June 25, 2024 ·  4 min read

18-Year-Old Olympic Star Killed Mere Weeks Before Paris Games

The Olympics 2024 are set to be held in Paris, France where a young Jackson Rice was set to compete. Sadly, he suffered from a “suspected shallow water blackout.” According to his father, he passed away just weeks before the big event.

Passing Before the Olympics

A young man kite-foiling. Ocean water, mountains, and blue sky with white clouds in the background.
Image Credit: @jj_rice | Instagram

Jackson James Rice, lovingly called JJ, died in Faleloa, Tonga on June 15th, 2024 his father, Darren Rice, told their local media. He was set to represent the southwestern Pacific country of Tonga. The country consists of 170 islands, and JJ was set to “make history” as the first Caucasian to represent Tonga in the Olympics. Unfortunately, JJ had been free diving from a boat when a tragic accident happened. It’s believed he lost consciousness “due to cerebral hypoxia” in shallow waters. Presumably, it happened “toward the end of a breath-hold dive in shallow water.” According to the NLM. “Typically caused by hyperventilating just before a dive. Which lowers the carbon dioxide level and delays the diver’s urge to breathe.” His body was found minutes later but attempts at resuscitation proved unsuccessful.

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Making Olympic History

A young man kite-foiling. Ocean, trees, and a sunset in the background.
Image Credit: @jj_rice | Instagram

JJ was born in the U.S. and his parents were British. Nonetheless, he grew up in Ha’apai, and Tonga was his home. “I’ve lived in Tonga my whole life, I see myself as a Tongan.” He said. Moreover, JJ grew up representing the southwestern Pacific country in numerous international kite-foiling events. He was headed toward success, working hard to perfect the sport before going to competition.

New Sports

CLOSE UP, DOF: Relaxed young woman foilsurfs towards the Mediterranean shoreline on a sunny summer day. Unrecognizable female tourist surfs on a foil board towards the untouched Peljesac peninsula.
Source: Shutterstock

Kite-foiling is a “relatively new form of kiteboarding,” according to backingwind.com. It’s been added to the roster for the 2024 Olympics and is also called foil boarding, foil kiteboarding, or hydrofoil kiteboarding. The rider uses a board with wings attached at the bottom, allowing the rider to “fly” over the water’s surface. This version of the sport has a reputation for allowing for greater speeds than “traditional kiteboarding.”

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Highlighting JJ’s Life

Close up of a young previously set to compete in the 2024 Olympics.
Image Credit: @jj_rice | Instagram

While the funeral date has yet to be announced, JJ’s family hasn’t hesitated to speak out about their love and loss. His father lovingly highlighted a proud moment in which his son risked his life to save 18 people after a boat had capsized off the coast of Faleoa in 2021.

Meanwhile, his sister Lily shared a heartwarming tribute to her beloved brother on Facebook. “I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he’s passed away. I don’t even know what to say, I don’t know what to do, or what to think.” She wrote. “I miss JJ beyond belief, I’m in shock I still can’t believe it and it will take all of us who loved JJ so long to feel ok again. 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. I will try my best to use what he taught me to be even a tiny bit as amazing as he was.”

Olympics Events

PARIS, FRANCE, JANUARY. 17. 2024: Paris 2024 Summer olympics games, man holding in hand ticket for track and field event at paris 2024 olympics. Modern Athletics olympics Stadium in background
Source: Shutterstock

More than an estimated 15 million tourists are set to come from all over the world to view the 2024 Olympics live in Paris, France. The Summer Olympics will run from July 26th to August 11th. Over 10,000 athletes will compete in more than 300 events. Meanwhile, the Paralympics will kick off on August 28th and run until September 8th. And more than 4,000 competitors but almost twice as many events.

2024 Changes to the Olympics

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 23: Olympic rings  at sunset with the Eiffel tower in Paris France panoramic background, Paris 2024 summer olympic games web banner, on May 23 2017 in Paris, France
Source: Shutterstock

Kite-foiling is only 1 of 4 new sports set to make their Olympics Debut at this year’s events. Breakdancing will also be part of the roster, and it will be accompanied by kayaking and surfing. Meanwhile, several other changes have been included in this year’s Olympic games, including changes to the artistic swimming competition as men have been included in the category. Meanwhile, a women’s weight class has been added to boxing, and the marathon race will now be a “race walk mixed relay.”

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  1. Paris 2024: How is France preparing for the Olympics and Paralympics?BBC. June 13, 2024.
  2. Tonga.” Britannica
  3. U.S.-born kitefoiler J.J. Rice dies at age 18 in diving accident weeks before his Olympics debut.CBS News. June 17, 2024.
  4. Shallow Water Blackout.” NLM. Ryan M. Bart and Henry Lau.
  5. In with the new: What are the new sports and events at the 2024 Paris Olympics?NBC Olympics. Sam Brief April 17, 2024.
  6. Kitefoiling: The Beginner’s Guide. Chris Lagao.” Kitefoiling.com. December 20, 2022.