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Russia Wins 1st Miss Universe Title

Oxana Fedorova of Russia won the 2002 Miss Universe crown Wednesday night, wearing a white evening gown and telling a roaring crowd that she blushes when she says the wrong things.

The five finalists were posed with a final question that dodged politics or controversy: "What makes you blush?"

"When I say the wrong things!" the 24-year-old only child from St. Petersburg, Russia, said grinning to a raucous crowd waving American flags. Many of the other contestants said they didn't blush. Last year's question was "What would you change about your life?"

Contestants were judged in three categories - swimsuits, evening gowns and interviews. The 5-foot-11 Russian with black hair and green eyes wore a white toga-like dress for the evening gown contest and won the swimsuit competition in a white bikini.

Fedorova, the 51st Miss Universe, is a university lecturer and doing post-graduate work in civil law. She wants to become an attorney and a mother, and has a 38-year-old boyfriend named Vladimir.

She will take home prizes worth about $250,000 in addition to promotional contracts and a two-year scholarship to The School for Film and Television in New York. She also gets to spend a year in New York on a salary and is provided with a luxury riverside apartment. She didn't say what would become of Vladimir.

"I feel good. I haven't been this happy in a long time," she said in Russian at a news conference after winning the crown. "I am completely shocked. This is the first time my country has ever won."

She arrived on the U.S. Caribbean island late after a visa hang-up, and organizers joked she would either not make it or win the crown.

In addition to her other goals, Fedorova wants to get involved in children's causes because "today's girls are tomorrow's mothers."

Fedorova gasped when her name was called and last year's queen, Puerto Rican Denise Quinones, placed a $250,000 crown of diamonds and pearls on her head.

Miss Panama, Justine Pasek, won first runner-up. Wearing a white off-the-shoulder gown with fringe, the 22-year-old wants to be an environmental engineer. She takes home $3,000 and trophy.

Next year's pageant will be in Panama.

Miss China, 19-year-old Ling Zhuo won second place. Wearing a sleek Asian-styled satin gown, she wants to be a fashion designer. It was the first time China has sent a contestant. She wins $2,000 and a trophy.

Miss South Africa, 22-year-old Vanessa Carreira, took third place and wore a sparking white gown with a glittering bustier. The budding novelist wants to own an advertising agency. She wins $1,000 and a trophy.

Miss Venezuela, Cynthia Lander Zamora took fourth place. The 19-year-old firefighter wore a revealing white dress that exposed her left hip. She wants to be a television host. She wins $1,000 and a trophy.

Miss Albania, Anisa Kospiri; Miss India, Neha Dhupia; Miss Germany, Natascha Borger; Miss Cyprus, Demetra Eleftheriou and Miss Canada, Neelam Verma made it into the top 10 but were eliminated in the final round. All take home a cash prize of $500.

Miss U.S. Virgin Islands, Merlisa Rhonda George, won the Miss Congeniality award, taking home a $1,000 cash prize and a trophy.

Absent from the top 10 were Miss USA, 23-year-old Shauntay Hinton and Miss Puerto Rico, 21-year-old Isis Marie Casalduc, who won the Miss Photogenic award, taking home $1,000 and a crystal trophy.

With acrobats dangling from a rope and fountains gushing streams of water on stage, Latin crooner Marc Anthony - dressed in a white suit and black sunglasses - performed two numbers in English. The New Yorker born to Puerto Rican parents had wanted to perform a salsa number in Spanish but CBS wanted him to do two of his best-known hits, which are in English.

Former National Football League player Phil Simms and actress-model Daisy Fuentes hosted the contest at San Juan's Roberto Clemente Coliseum. Contestants from 75 countries and territories were competing.

The show was broadcast live by CBS Television Network to more than 176 countries and territories.

The costume prize went to Miss Colombia, 20-year-old Vanessa Mendoza, in a gold dress adorned with blue, yellow and red feathers.

The judges included Guess model Tyrese, women's fashion designer Nicole Miller, "Baywatch" actress and "Sheena" star Gena Lee Nolin, Chinese entrepreneur Yue-Sai Kan and the winner of "Survivor Africa," Ethan Zohn.

Organizers said they hoped the glitzy contest would take people's minds off the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the world's political woes.

"I think we all need a diversion," said organizer Mary Hilliard. "At the end of the day, it's a beauty pageant and it's a television show."

By Katy Daigle

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