Olympic athlete for Tonga dies suddenly ahead of Paris Olympics

J.J. Rice, who was supposed to compete as the first Caucasian athlete to represent Tonga next month, was supposed to represent the country in the Olympic sport of Kitefoiling.

Published: June 17, 2024 4:06pm

An American-born Olympic athlete, who was expected to represent the Oceanic country of Tonga in the Paris Olympics this summer, unexpectedly passed away over the weekend, his family said on Monday.

J.J. Rice, who would have been the first Caucasian athlete to represent Tonga next month, was planning to compete for the country in the Olympic sport of Kitefoiling. The 2024 Olympics is the first time the sport will be recognized in the international competition. Kitefoilers race on boards that are lifted off the water and can go as fast as 30 mph, according to the Associated Press.

Rice's family said the 18-year-old died on Saturday while free-diving from a boat. Rice was born in the United States, but was raised on the island of Ha’apai in the Tonga archipelago, where his parents own a tourist lodge. His parents are British.

“I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he’s passed away,” Rice’s sister Lily said on Facebook. “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 had finished eighth in a competition in Sydney, Australia, in December, which earned him his spot in the Olympics. 

The Paris Olympic games will begin on July 26, and run through August 11. The 2028 Olympic games will be held in Los Angeles, California.

Misty Severi is an evening news reporter for Just the News. You can follow her on X for more coverage.

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