DORAL, Florida: Colombia’s Paulina Vega was crowned Miss Universe on Sunday (Monday in Manila), beating out contenders from the United States, Ukraine, Jamaica and The Netherlands at the world’s top beauty pageant in Florida.
Miss Philippines Mary Jean Lastimosa was one of the 10 semifinalists, along with Argentina, Australia, Spain and Venezuela.
The 22-year-old Vega, a model and business student, triumphed over 87 other women from around the world, and is only the second beauty queen from Colombia to take home the prize.
The last time Colombia won the crown was in 1958 when Luz Marina Zuluaga scored the title.
Vega, wearing a long silver sequined gown, was beaming and tearful as she accepted her sash and crown from reigning Miss Universe, Venezuelan Gabriela Isler.
She edged out first runner-up, Nia Sanchez from the United States, hugging her as the win was announced.
London-born Vega dedicated her title to Colombia and to all her supporters.
“We are proud, this is a triumph, not only personal, but for all those 47 million Colombians who were dreaming with me and were part of this whole process,” she told reporters after the win.
Vega said the title was “more important than the World Cup,” and said beauty queens are respected around the world.
For the Colombian, the victory was a point of national pride and she hopes it will put her country on the map.
“We are persevering people, despite all the obstacles, we keep fighting for what we want to achieve. After years of difficulty, we are leading in several areas on the world stage,” she said earlier during the question round.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos applauded her, praising the brown-haired beauty on Twitter.
“Colombia today is an example for the world, congratulations,” he wrote.
The five-foot-nine model from Barranquilla is the granddaughter of legendary tenor Gaston Vega and 1953 Miss Atlantico, Elvira Castillo.
Vega won highest possible score of 9.9 in every presentation at the Miss Universe Colombia contest, according to the pageant’s website.
Vega beat out Ukraine’s Diana Harkusha, Yasmin Verheijen from the Netherlands and Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell, who were also top five finalists.
Though Sunday’s program remained mostly apolitical, Miss Ukraine spoke about ongoing turmoil in her nation.
“We have a very difficult situation in our country, direct all of our energies to support our army and our people we have to restore schools, we have to restore kindergartens and orphanages,” Harkusha said.
The 63rd edition of the Miss Universe pageant was held at Florida International University before a full house of enthusiastic fans.
The contest featured the traditional parade of eye-catching swimsuits and national costumes and performances from teen idol Nick Jonas and Dominican-born American singer Prince Royce.
Ten judges were tasked to select this year’s winner, including Cuban-American music mogul Emilio Estefan, Cuban soap opera star William Levy and Philippine boxing great Manny Pacquiao.
The event is actually the 2014 Miss Universe pageant. The competition was scheduled to take place between the Golden Globes and the Super Bowl to try to get a bigger television audience.