A Christmas Eve-like anticipation accompanied the Olympic torch on its last loop through the Salt Lake Valley Friday before coming to rest at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the duration of the 2002 Winter Games.

"I can't wait anymore," said Inna Koplenka, 40, a Ukrainian native who moved to Utah five years ago.

Koplenka was among the Salt Lake residents who greeted the torch at 7:30 a.m. on 900 West and 700 North.

The residents met the relay in a well-timed rush after tracking its snow-delayed progress all morning on their television sets.

The final leg of the torch's two-month journey began at 5:30 a.m. at the Salt Lake City-County Building. From there, the torch traveled north to Woods Cross and Bountiful before returning to the Salt Lake Valley.

Sounds from the Salt Lake Elementary School Band greeted the torch as it entered West Valley City at 9 a.m.

Made up of some 75 sixth-graders from Mountain View, Bonneville and Emerson Elementary schools, the band played a somewhat ragged but certainly enthusiastic version of the "Bonanza" television-show theme song.

The torch made a brief stop at the West Valley City Hall, where it was serenaded again. The parade then headed south to Kearns High School, arriving at noon.

Kurtis Taylor, a 17-year-old junior, decided to skip a class to see the torch pass by the school. He was joined by most of the other students at Kearns High School.

The students crowded into the school's parking lot.

Most of them were there simply to cheer. Those who have teacher Harold Bell for history class, though, scribbled notes. Bell says he plans on quizzing his students about the relay.

For some torch watchers — or would-be torch watchers — the parade was a decided letdown.

"We stood there for an hour and 45 minutes," said Becky Christensen, who waited to see a torch runner with her mother, sister, niece and four children on 1300 East in Draper Friday afternoon.

Before Christensen and her family knew what had happened, though, the torch had zoomed by in the back of a truck.

"There were no sirens or anything. I feel like if we have to put up with the things that we do, with the closures and all, that they really ought to give us some special moments."

Christensen said she tried to find out in the newspaper and on TV where the torch was being run and where it was being driven, but the route wasn't clear.

The torch visited Riverton before heading back toward Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Sandy residents began lining up at the Sandy Amphitheater around noon — about three hours before the torch arrived.

Jim and Christiane Adams took their own place on 1300 East and 9300 South at 1:30 p.m. For Christiane Adams the relay is a family tradition.

She first witnessed an Olympic torch relay in 1996, when the Atlanta torch come through the same area. However, her parents saw the very first torch parade from their home in Berlin in 1936, she says.

After much controversy, Jazz star Karl Malone, who lobbied in public to be chosen as the runner to carry the torch into Rice-Eccles Stadium, carried the torch toward Murray City Hall, where actress Roma Downey also participated in the relay. The torch then headed north to Shriners Hospital, its final stop before coming to rest in the Olympic caldron.

Larry Littleford, a member of Utah Task Force One, a search and rescue squad which traveled to New York on September 28 to help at the World Trade Center site, ran his portion of the relay on 200 East in downtown Salt Lake City.

Littleford said he was honored to carry the torch.

University of Utah football coach Ron McBride carried the torch to Shriners Hospital where he passed it off to some of the final torchbearers.

The torch, which was lit in Athens, Greece in November, was swept away for its final leg before serving as the spark for the Olympic flame of Salt Lake City's Games.

E-mail: jeffh@desnews.com