Miss Canada Natalie Glebova was crowned Miss Universe 2005 in Bangkok on Tuesday at the climax of a beauty pageant that once again managed to stumble into controversy.
Glebova, a 23-year-old motivational speaker from Toronto, succeeded last year’s winner, Australian Jennifer Hawkins, after the usual evening gown and swimsuit parades that pull in TV viewers worldwide but outrage feminists and traditionalists.
Even though hotly tipped for the title, the final announcement appeared to stun Glebova, who moved to Canada from her native Russia only 11 years ago.
“This is all happening too fast and it’s unreal. It’s slowly starting to sink in,” she told reporters moments after being crowned with the glittering, diamond-encrusted Miss Universe tiara.
Dressed in a long white evening dress, she hugged her parents on stage and then praised her new homeland for giving her and her family the chance to start a new life.
“When we came 11 years ago, we came with nothing, and now we’ve got so much,” she said.
Miss Puerto Rico Cynthia Olavarria, a 12-1 favorite according to on-line betting service Sportsbook.com, came in second.
In all, 81 beauties from Albania to Zambia made it to Thailand, riding elephants, touring temples and frollicking on tsunami-hit beaches in the run-up to Tuesday’s finale, which was broadcast live on Monday evening in North America.
In the middle of the show, the conference hall fell silent for a minute in memory of the more than 228,000 dead or missing from the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami. Nearly 5,400 of the victims were in Thailand.
The silence contrasted with some of the strident criticism levelled against the 54-year-old pageant in its earlier stages.
Photographs of bikini-clad contestants posing in front of Bangkok’s famed “Wat Arun”, or “Temple of the Dawn”, caused outrage among religious traditionalists who said they were an affront to Buddhism.
Indonesia’s first Miss Universe hopeful in nine years also sparked a storm back home in the world’s most populous Muslim nation with her decision to take part in the swimsuit part of the competition.
Even though 25-year-old law student Artika Sari Devi opted to wear a one-piece swimsuit rather than the skimpier two-piece bikinis favored by most contestants, conservatives reacted with anger, branding the pageant “pornography”.