By Cybele Zhang
A balcony collapse injured junior Ben Hallock and three other American water polo players at the Coyote Ugly nightclub in Gwangju, South Korea on Saturday night. The Americans were celebrating the U.S. women’s victory over Spain and an unprecedented third consecutive International Swimming Federation (FINA) World Championship. Seventeen were injured, and two Korean men, neither of whom were athletes, were killed in the disaster.
Arguably the best player in collegiate water polo, Hallock won 2019 National Player of the Year and the 2019 Peter J. Cutino Award — becoming just the second Stanford man to take home the latter honor. The 2016 Olympian was lucky to only suffer minor leg scrapes from the collapse — but fellow Americans Kaleigh Gilchrist, Paige Hauschild and Johnny Hooper were more seriously hurt. According to USA Today, Gilchrist suffered a deep left leg laceration and underwent surgery at a Gwangju hospital, while Hauschild and Hopper both suffered lacerations that required stitches. None of the injuries are considered life-threatening.
“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 occurred at a public club. Our hearts go out to the victims of the crash and their families.”
Gwangju is located about 270 miles south of Seoul and hosted the 2019 FINA World Championships from July 12-28. Events included water polo, diving, high diving, artistic swimming and open water.
Five other FINA athletes — two New Zealanders, one Dutch, one Italian and one Brazilian — also suffered injuries in the disaster, according to a police officer.
FINA, which also serves as international swimming’s governing body, wrote in a statement that it was “carefully monitoring the situation and will activate all measures to ensure health care and assistance is provided whenever necessary.”
It is still unclear what exactly caused the raised structure to collapse around 2:30 a.m., but local authorities are investigating whether the balcony and staircase fell due to excessive weight. Witnesses told South Korean news agency Yonhap that there were about 100 people on the loft at the time of collapse, and the BBC reports that about 370 people filled the entire club.
Police have detained the nightclub’s co-owners and are investigating whether the fallen balcony was an unauthorized structure.
Prior to the collapse, Hallock and the U.S. men’s team finished ninth of 16 teams. University of California, Berkeley alumnus Hooper was the top-scorer for the United States, with 14 goals.
Hallock is a key player on the Cardinal team, which begins the 2019 season on Sept. 7 with the Navy Invite in Annapolis, Maryland. There have been no indications thus far that the injuries will prevent Hallock from appearing at the invite.
In addition to his valuable contributions on the senior national team, Hallock scored 65 goals in the 2018 season for Stanford, making goals in 21 of 23 games and averaging 2.86 goals per game en route to the Cardinal’s first NCAA finals appearance in a decade. Hallock also played an integral role in helping the Cardinal secure their first MPSF conference title in five years.