Stage set for Miss World finale in South Africa

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Indy Lifestyle Online

After a month of traipsing around the country and immersing themselves in South African culture, beauties from around the globe now have their eyes set on the Miss World pageant Saturday.

The road to the finals for the 112 hopefuls was marked by visits to some of the country's top holiday spots and preliminary mini-contests, which secured the winners a place in the semi-finals.

Eruza Sasaki from Japan, Perla Beltran Acosta from Mexico and Mariatu Kargbo from Sierra Leone are some of the contestants who came tops in the early events.

"It's been a whirlwind experience. I want to represent my country to the best of my ability," said Kargbo, Miss Sierra Leone.

The competition, being hosted in South Africa from the ninth time, will be broadcast live to over a billion viewers from 1500 GMT - when reigning Miss World Ksenia Sukhinova from Russia will hand over the crown at a glittering ceremony in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.

"I couldn't have asked for a better country to hand over my reign. The experience has been fascinating. I am lucky to go through it twice," said Sukhinova.

Sukhinova said her time with the new contestants has been spent sharing experiences and marvelling at the abundance of nature and "the breath-taking scenery the country has to offer."

Organisers say the show will be a music and dance spectacular where the contestants will strut their stuff in national costumes and, of course, swimsuits.

"Winning the title would be the best thing to happen in my life. The competition will be very tough, all the girls are well prepared," said Miss Thailand, Pongchanok Kanklab.

Miss India, Pooja Chopra hopes to follow in the footsteps of home girls Priyanka Chopra crowned in 2000 and Aishwarya Rai who won the title in 1994 and went on to become a major Bollywood star.

"It's every woman's dream to be crowned the most beautiful in the world, but it is not all about the appearance. We are the ambassadors of our countries, I want to take crown back home," said a beaming Chopra.

The former Miss World Chopra will grace the show as a special guest.

Held in Johannesburg for a second consecutive year, the extravaganza will be hosted by China's leading television presenter Angela Chow, South African former beauty queen Michelle McLean, and Miss World official Steve Douglas.

"South Africa has shown that it knows how to welcome the world with warmth and pride that is hard to match," said Julia Morley, chairwoman of the Miss World Organisation.

The contestants arrived in the country on November 14 to start a journey packed with safaris and visits to historic sites, including the famous Soweto township where former president Nelson Mandela used to stay, and tasted local cuisine.

Many contestants, particularly those from the countries taking part in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, said attending the last week's draw in Cape Town was a highlight of their stay.

"I rubbed shoulders with some of the people I never thought I could come close to. I will definitely be back for the games in 2010," said Alice Taticchi from Italy.

Lindiwe Mahlangu, Johannesburg's tourism boss, said the return of the pageant to the city would help promote the country and the city in a positive light.

"We are the increasingly becoming a major player in hosting global events and the return of the competition just proves that," said Mahlangu.

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