Two people died and 16 were injured, including eight athletes taking part in swimming's world championship, after a balcony collapsed under the weight of party-goers at a South Korean nightclub, local police said Saturday. The balcony at the Coyote Ugly club close to the athletes' village was a mangled wreck after it gave way and plummeted around five metres (16 feet) onto people below, sending terrified clubbers running to the exit screaming. "An internal balcony collapsed at a club in Gwangju, killing two," said Song Gi-ju, a detective with the Gwangju Metropolitan Police Agency.
"We have a total of 16 injured and among them 10 are foreigners. Of the 10, eight are athletes participating in the championships." Song said the two dead were locals and not involved in the swimming championships, adding that police were investigating the possibility the balcony may have been illegally constructed.
The eight injured athletes include three Americans, two New Zealanders, one Dutch, one Brazilian and one Italian. Police said earlier that among the Americans was a male diver and a female polo player.
"A structure collapsed all of a sudden with people standing on it. Screams filled the area with broken parts flying all over, said a 32-year-old who was injured in the collapse, according to South Korea's Kukmin Ilbo. "The site of the collapse was at the centre of the club where customers were most heavily located," said the party-goer, surnamed Kim.
A 38-year-old and a 27-year-old were rushed to hospital in grave condition but both died from their injuries, according to local media.
The world championships organising committee said the eight athletes were treated for minor injuries and have returned to their accommodation. Another will have stitches on a leg wound Saturday.
"This is an awful tragedy," said Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo.
"Players from our men's and women's teams were celebrating the women's world championship victory when the collapse. Our hearts go out to the victims of the crash and their families." Ramsey added that all the American water polo players were "safe".
The Australian water polo team were also present but escaped without injury. The New Zealand men's captain told Radio Sport: "We were just dancing and then the next minute we dropped five or six metres and everyone started rushing out of the club after that.
"We, I guess, fell on top of the heads of other people that were beneath us." Swimming's world body FINA said it would "activate all measures to ensure health care and assistance is provided whenever necessary".
"FINA deeply regrets the situation and sends its best wishes to any victims of this accident," it added. The world championships end on Sunday.
Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom limbered up for a world sprint double with the fastest 50 metres freestyle heat Saturday as a fatal nightclub accident shook the world swimming championships.
In the pool, Sjostrom clocked 24.26 seconds to top the women's 50m free prelims ahead of Australia's Cate Campbell (24.40) and American Simone Manuel (24.41) as the trio resumed battle after Friday's 100m final.
"It is what it is," shrugged Campbell the morning after claiming silver behind the defending champion and Olympic gold medallist Manuel in the 100m. "It is a little bittersweet. I've managed to get on the podium every time I've swum the 100 at a world championship which is a pretty remarkable achievement in itself so I'm focusing on the positives."
Sjostrom, who took bronze in the 100m free, can become the first woman to win three world championship gold medals in the 50m butterfly in Saturday's evening finals.
Italy's Gregorio Paltrinieri qualified fastest for the men's 1,500m freestyle final in a time of 14:45.80 as the Olympic champion chases a world title treble in the pool's toughest event.
The Italian will look to crack Sun Yang's world record of 14:31.02 in this weekend's final with the Chinese giant choosing not to contest the 1,500m. Sun, who retained his 200 and 400m freestyle titles this week, has been the target of protests from athletes following bombshell claims in a leaked FINA doping panel report that alleged he allowed blood samples to be smashed with a hammer after a visit from testers last year.
American Lilly King, who has been critical of Sun in Korea, fired off a 30.18 to go second fastest in the heats of the women's 50m breaststroke as she looks to defend the title she won in 2017.
Sun departed the championships after China finished a distant sixth in Friday's 4x200m freestyle, but not before firing a parting shot at his critics. "I shouldn't have to put up with these kinds of insults," growled the three-time Olympic gold medallist, who insisted he was standing up for all athletes by refusing to allow what he called "unlicensed" testers to take his samples.
"I'm protecting myself and all athletes. Everything I have said is true, I have nothing to prove."
American superstar Caeleb Dressel could add two more gold medals to the three he has already bagged this week when he attempts to retain his 50m free and 100m fly titles on Saturday evening.