Miss China won the coveted title of Miss World on Saturday, triumphing on home soil in a mining city on the edge of the Gobi desert.
The mostly Chinese audience erupted in cheers when it was announced that the home candidate, Yu Wenxia, had been awarded the title.
Explaining during the final why she should win the Miss World title, Yu said: “When I was young I felt very lucky because so many people helped me, and I hope in the future I can help more children to feel lucky.”
Last year’s Miss World — Ivian Sarcos of Venezuela — handed over her crown in the futuristic Dongsheng stadium in the northeastern city of Ordos.
A total of 116 contestants, the highest number ever, took to the stage during the contest, watched annually by about a billion people around the globe.
Ordos, around 700 kilometres (440 miles) from the nearest beach, is an unusual venue for the world’s biggest beauty pageant.
Besides the traditional swimsuits and evening gowns, participants also donned outlandish costumes, with some dressed as belly dancers.
The beauty queens have been in China rehearsing for nearly a month, soaking up traditional Mongolian culture by churning yoghurt in a nomad’s yurt and donning local attire to climb a sand dune.
The city, which has a vast town square dedicated to the mighty Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan, has grown rich over the last decade on the back of a coal mining boom that has transformed it from a sandstorm-afflicted backwater into one of the wealthiest places in China.
The boom triggered a frenzy of building in the city, but the local government has been unable to fill the vast tower blocks that have sprung up, earning it the title of China’s biggest ghost town.
Enthusiastic competitors seemed unfazed, expressing optimism that with the help of the pageant, the city could leave that reputation behind and take its place alongside other global centres of glitz and glamour.
“Ordos could be the next Dubai,” said Marielle Wilkie, representing the Caribbean nation of Barbados.
Albanian contestant Floriana Garo chimed in with her own bold prediction.
“In ten years, this city will be booming,” she said.
Architecture in Ordos — where the city museum is shaped like an undulating blob — is “world class”, added Markysa O’Loughlin, representing St. Kitts and Nevis, also in the Caribbean.
Bookmakers had tipped Miss Mexico, 20-year-old Mariana Reynoso, for the crown, but Miss China was also seen as a leading contender along with Miss Nepal.
While the popularity of the contest, first held in 1951, has waned in the West, continued interest in Asian countries ensures that the final rakes in a huge global television audience.
Sweden’s Kiki Hakansson was the first Miss World, while Oscar-winning US actress Halle Berry was a finalist in 1986 and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai took the crown in 1994.
Venezuela has produced the most Miss Worlds, with six winners, while India and Britain claim five titles each.
China has already hosted the competition five times, most recently in 2010 on the tropical southern island of Hainan.
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