Miss Japan Crowned Miss Universe 2007

By JULIE WATSON
The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 29, 2007; 1:54 AM

MEXICO CITY -- A 20-year-old dancer from Japan was crowned Miss Universe 2007 on Monday night, marking only the second time her country has won the world beauty title.

Dressed in a black, red and purple Japanese-style gown, Riyo Mori nervously grabbed the hands of first runner-up, Natalia Guimaraes of Brazil, just before the winner was announced. Then she threw her hands up and covered her mouth, overcome with emotion.

But she gathered herself together enough to catch the diamond-and-pearl-studded headpiece valued at $250,000 as it slipped off her head when Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico crowned her. Mori immediately placed it back on her head.

The last time Japan won the pageant was in 1959 when Akiko Kojima became the first Miss Universe from Asia.

"She is an amazing champion, an amazing woman and I hear that they go totally insane in Japan, so that's good," said Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with NBC.

Miss USA Rachel Smith, who slipped and fell to the floor during the evening gown competition and was jeered by the Mexican audience during the interview phase, was the contest's fourth runner-up.

Mori, from the small town of Shizuoka at the base of Mount Fuji, won the cheers of the Mexico City audience when she opened her interview, saying 'Hola, Mexico!'

"I learned how to always be happy, be patient and to be positive, and this is what I want to teach to the next generation," she said during the interview competition.

The daughter of a dance school operator, Mori said her grandmother told her as a child that she wanted her to be Miss Japan before she turned 20.

"From the very beginning, I entered the competition with high hopes and an unswerving determination to make this dream a reality," she said in a pre-competition interview.

She wants to someday open an international dance school in Tokyo.

"Right now I am only 20 years old, so I'm really excited about what I'm going to be able to do at this age to benefit society," Mori said after winning.


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