Beauties gear up for Miss World final

Contestants from 104 countries and territories will vie on Saturday in Warsaw for the crown of Miss World, after being put through their paces for the past month at venues across Poland.
The contestants have travelled the length and breadth of Poland since arriving at the beginning of September, and have been asked to try their hand at a number of activities, some not usually associated with beauty pageants.
They have not only sung and danced — fairly run-of-the-mill pastimes for aspiring Misses — but also attended university conferences where they learned about quantum physicist Max Born, and accompanied Polish police officers on a tour of duty to inspect bus engines. Why the latter, nobody knows. The final of what claims to be the biggest beauty pageant on the planet will be broadcast live on Saturday to nearly 200 countries from Warsaw’s imposing Palace of Culture — a “gift” to Poland in the 1950s from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
During the gala evening, the 104 contestants will model everything from evening dress to swim suits, perform choreographed dance routines and submit to the usual question and answer session.
The field will be whittled down to 16 finalists, one of whom will eventually steps into the shoes of Unnur Birna Vilhjalmsdottir of Iceland, last year’s winner.
The two billion television viewers the organisers expect to tune in to the competition will be able to vote for their choice for the title by sending a mobile telephone text message. Their vote will be combined with the decision of a jury to eventually crown Miss World 2006.
Four of the young women have already earned themselves a place among the 16 finalists by standing out from their rivals and winning lesser titles during the month-long competition in Poland.
Ireland’s Catherine Jean Milligan was named Miss Talent Show; Croatia’s Ivana Ergig, Miss with a Purpose; Polish-born Canadian Malgorzata Majewska won the Miss Sport title; and Venezuela’s Alexandra Federica Guzman Diamante was named Miss Beach.
India and Venezuela have each won five Miss World titles, putting them at the top of the country league table. Immediately behind them is Britain, with four titles, followed by Sweden, Jamaica and Iceland, who have seen nationals from their shores crowned Miss World three times each.
One British-hosted betting website this week gave Miss Venezuela the best odds (152), followed closely by Miss Australia and Miss India, both at eight to one. Another betting website listed the same three contestants as favourites, although Miss Venezuela and Miss Australia were in joint first, at nine to one, and Miss India at 11 to one.
Saturday’s final will last two hours. Tickets for the gala at the Palace of Culture start at 250 euros (300 dollars) and go as high as 2,000 euros.
“The 2,000-euro ticket not only allows you to see the final but also to take part in the banquet at the end and have a photo taken with the new Miss World,” Miss World press officer Lukasz Niegowski told AFP.
The evening’s masters-of-ceremonies will be China’s Angela Chow, Britain’s Tim Vincent and Grazyna Torbicka of host nation Poland.
Entertainment at the final will be provided by Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees and Irish group Westlife.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2006