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Miss Mexico Vanessa Ponce de Leon waves after winning the 68th Miss World contest final Image Credit: AFP

India’s Manushi Chhillar, who won the Miss World pageant last year, on Saturday passed the baton to Mexico’s Vanessa Ponce De Leon at a glitzy ceremony in Sanya, China.

“I can’t believe it, I really can’t believe it... And I think all the girls deserved it. I am proud to represent all of them. I will do as much as I can in the time I have got. Thank you so much, everyone,” De Leon said backstage after winning the crown at the Sanya City Arena.

The 26-year-old smiled with moist eyes as she folded her hands in gratitude to gesture the traditional Indian ‘Namaste’ greeting when Chhillar placed the crown on her head. She took a walk as the newly-crowned beauty queen, waving at the crowd, and wrapped up the evening with a celebratory dance with other contestants.

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Ponce de Leon, 26, is crowned by former Miss World 2017 India’s Manushi Chhillar. Image Credit: Reuters

Having pursued a degree in International Business, Ponce De Leon is currently on the board of directors of a rehabilitation centre for girls and volunteers for Migrantes en el Camino. She is a speaker for the National Youth Institute as well as working as a model and a presenter.

I really can’t believe it.. I think all the girls deserved it. I am proud to represent all of them. I will do as much as I can in the time I have got.

- Vanessa Ponce de Leon, Miss World 2018

An adventurous soul, she has qualified as an open water scuba diver, and also enjoys playing volleyball, painting and ultimate Frisbee, according to the official Miss World website.

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Miss Mexico Vanessa Ponce de Leon, 26, reacts after winning the Miss World 2018 title Image Credit: Reuters

The colourful ceremony included US group Sister Sledge performing their 1979 disco anthem ‘We Are Family.’

The first runner up was Thailand’s Nicolene Pichapa Limsnukan, a 20-year-old studying business administration.

Miss Belarus Maria Vasilevich, Miss Jamaica Kadijah Robinson and Miss Uganda Quiin Abenakyo were also among the final five.

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Miss Thailand Nicolene Pichapa Limsnukan, Miss Belarus Maria Vasilevich and Miss Jamaica Kadijah Robinson with Ponce de Leon. Image Credit: Reuters

It is the eighth time the Miss World final has been held in Sanya, which first hosted the pageant in 2003.

At the finals three years ago, controversy erupted as officials in Hong Kong stopped Miss Canada, Anastasia Lin, from boarding a plane bound for Sanya, telling her she would not receive a visa.

The 25-year-old actress claimed the decision was due to her stance on China’s human rights record, including its persecution of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual group of which she is a practitioner.

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Ponce de Leon (centre) dances with the Mexican flag as she celebrates with fellow contestants. Image Credit: AFP

Indians were keeping their fingers crossed for Anukreethy Vas after Chhillar broke a years-long dry spell for India at the Miss World beauty pageant last year. Vas, a native of Tiruchirappalli, made it to the top 30 but failed to make the cut to the top 12 at the gala.

A total of 118 contestants participated in the contest this year.