MISS PUERTO RICO wins Miss Universe crown on her own turf

Saturday, May 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Puerto Ricans took to the streets shouting for joy, waving flags and dancing after their island's beauty queen was crowned Miss Universe.

With her coronation on Friday night, Miss Puerto Rico Denise Quinones August became one of the few women in the history of the pageant to win on home soil.

``I'm proud to have won this crown,'' said Quinones, wearing a shimmering white evening gown with a plunging neckline. ``I think I have left a great legacy for my beloved Puerto Rico.''

Hundreds of people celebrated in the streets outside the coliseum in the San Juan suburb of Bayamon, beating on pots and shouting the name of their champion.

``We came to celebrate the victory of our queen Denise!'' said reveler Odannys Esquilin. Into the early morning Saturday, horns blared in honor of the victory along many streets in the U.S. Caribbean territory.

This year's Miss Universe pageant was the 50th. Since the first competition in 1952, few contestants have won in their homeland. Pageant organizers said the only other case in recent memory came in 1997, when Miss USA Brook Lee won in Miami.

Quinones became the fourth Puerto Rican to be crowned Miss Universe.

Miss Greece, 22-year-old Evelina Papantoniou, took second place, and Miss USA, 24-year-old Kandace Krueger, came in third. Miss Venezuela, 18-year-old Eva Ekvall, and Miss India, 22-year-old Celina Jaitley, were runners-up.

Judges chose the winner among the finalists after asking each contestant brief questions. When one of the judges asked Quinones to name the biggest misconception about beauty, she said it is ``just trying to find beauty in the outside of the person.''

``You have to go deep in the soul of that person,'' she said.

For the final question, the judges asked each of the five what, if anything, she would change in her life. Jaitley said she would change a time in which she was ill and bedridden. ``I missed out on the most important years of my life,'' she said.

Others, including Quinones, said they wouldn't change anything. ``I really enjoyed all my life,'' Quinones said, after hesitating several seconds.

The show also included a performance by Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, who appeared in the crowd in a puff of smoke.

Quinones succeeds Lara Dutta of India, who won last year on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Ten semifinalists were picked ahead of time from among the 77 contestants after swimsuit and evening gown competitions on Sunday and interviews with judges this week. The field was then narrowed to five finalists on Friday before the winner was chosen.

The judges included Puerto Rican singer Marc Anthony, 1993 Miss Universe Dayanara Torres Muniz, also of Puerto Rico, and Kel Gleason, a contestant on the TV show ``Survivor: The Australian Outback.''

Quinones wins a prize package worth about $250,000, plus other modeling and promotional contracts that usually follow. The title requires the winner to spend one year in New York as representative of the Miss Universe Organization, which is jointly owned by the television network CBS and entrepreneur Donald Trump.