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Kite Foil Racer Jackson James Rice, 18, Dead Weeks Before Olympic Debut

Jackson James Rice, an 18-year-old kite foil racer weeks away from his debut at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, has died.

Jackson’s father, Darren Rice, confirmed his son passed away on Saturday, June 15, at Faleloa, Ha’apai. It is suspected that Jackson died from a shallow water blackout, which is a loss of consciousness from the diver due to hypoxia (or lack of oxygen) during a breath-hold dive in shallow water.

Per Matangi Tonga Online, Jackson’s body was found at 12:15 PM on the seafloor by other divers underneath the boat. While attempts were made to resuscitate Jackson, they were unable to revive him.

“I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he’s passed away,” Jackson’s sister, Lily Rice, wrote via Facebook on Sunday, June 16. “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.”

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Jackson was a hero in his own right, according to Darren, who recalled how his son at only 15 had helped rescue 18 people when a ferryboat capsized near Faleloa in 2021. Jackson also helped pull two girls back to safety after they had been swept out to sea from a sandbar.

18-Year-Old Athlete Jackson James Rice Dead Weeks Before Olympic Debut
Jackson James Rice. Lily Rice/Facebook

Born in the United States to British parents, Jackson grew up in Ha’apai and considered himself Tongan. The teen athlete was set to represent Tonga in his Olympic debut for kite foiling at the Summer Olympics in July.

“I’ve lived in Tonga my whole life, I see myself as a Tongan, I don’t see myself as anything else,” Jackson told Matangi Tonga in May.

18-Year-Old Athlete Jackson James Rice Dead Weeks Before Olympic Debut
Courtesy of Jackson James Rice/Instagram

The 2024 Paris Olympics will be the first time Kite Foiling will be a part of the Olympics. Similar to kiteboarding, kite foiling uses a foil board that allows the rider to go much faster and gain more air to perform all kinds of acrobatics.

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Jackson earned his spot on the Olympic team when he finished in 8th place at the Sail Sydney event in December 2023. He had recently returned to his home in Ha’apai after he competed in the 2024 Formula Kite World Championships, which took place in the South of France.

“It would be so nice if we could get the young kids sailing in Tonga and hopefully, yeah, push them through to the next Olympics,” Jackson told ABC Pacific earlier this year.

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