Sjostrom sets pace; nightclub deaths stun championship

South Korean firefighters and officials examine the collapsed structure of a nightclub where several athletes competing at the World Aquatics Championships were dancing, in Gwangju (Reuters)

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.

Eight athletes were among the injured after a balcony at a South Korean nightclub collapsed in the early hours Saturday, sending party-goers plummeting over five metres onto people below.

Two locals were confirmed dead by Gwangju police, while 16 more people hurt. Athletes among those who sustained injury were from the United States, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Brazil and Italy.

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. 

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