A successful top-secret mission to 'smuggle' a team to the Winter Olympics was led by a Keighley woman, we can reveal.

Karen Parr, 30, who is on the organising committee of the games, was chosen for the hush-hush task of getting the North Korean team to the host city of Nagano in Japan.

For years North Korea has been banned from taking part in any Olympic games, but delicate international negotiations lifted the bar for Nagano. Many countries have completely cut off relations with North Korea.

After a series of high-level diplomatic talks it was decided to bring the Korean team out via Beijing in China, though the team's exact travel arrangements have had to be kept top secret.

In an exclusive interview with the Keighley News from Japan Karen told us :"It was very important that nothing went wrong."

For just over a year Karen, whose parents Brian and Jenny have a farm just outside Laycock, has been working with the organising committee, planning the bumper event and meeting some of the biggest names in the sporting world.

When the opening ceremony is being held next Saturday Karen will be at the side of American Nobel Peace Prize winner Jodie Williams, who launched the current international anti-landmines campaign.

Karen will be her guide throughout the first day of the games.

"It is a very exciting job and the atmosphere in the city is building up all the time," Karen says. "Flags are flying everywhere as teams from around the world fly in.

"Often the Japanese staff are still working until four in the morning to make sure everything goes as planned. Now we just need the weather to be kind to us."

After working in the international relations section of the organising committee Karen recently moved into the headquarters section, working as an interpreter and travelling the world with senior members of the committee while every minute of the event was planned down to the last detail.

The only thing they couldn't plan was the weather and until two weeks ago there had hardly been a flake of snow on the mountains around Nagano. But then came relief as snow began to fall. Karen headed for the slopes and was able to spend a weekend skiing on the slopes which will be home to the downhill ski competitions.

Karen settled in Japan as she travelled the world after taking a degree in French and linguistics at Lancaster University. After visiting Canada and the USA she planned to go to Australia, but ended up teaching English in Japan.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.