SALT LAKE CITY – The Olympic torch entered Salt Lake City the same way the Mormon pioneers did 155 years ago — aboard a covered wagon.
The torch finally made it into town Thursday — a day before the start of the Winter Olympics — entering the home stretch of its 13,500-mile American journey with a trip down Emigration Canyon.
Thousands of spectators cheered as a runner jumped out of the wagon and ran toward a small stage, where a brief speech was made by an actor portraying Brigham Young.
Young led the Mormons to Salt Lake City from Illinois in 1847.
The torch then worked its way to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in downtown Salt Lake City, where church president Gordon B. Hinckley briefly hoisted it into the air while thousands cheered.
"To everyone we extend our gratitude and best wishes," the 91-year-old church leader said. "Let this be a great and wonderful and historic occasion for everyone who joins us here."
The torch ended the day's run at the city's Washington Square, where Mayor Rocky Anderson said, "The Olympic flame has never burned brighter than in the warm soul of Salt Lake City."
The final carrier was wheelchair-bound Paralympic Alpine skier Chris Waddell of Jeremy Ranch, Utah, who used it to light a cauldron.
Other torch bearers on the final leg included former Olympic skiers Steve and Phil Mahre, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and Utah Jazz guard John Stockton.
Earlier, the torch passed through the Olympic village and by the Utah Capitol.
Friday night, the flame is to be carried into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening ceremony to light the Olympic cauldron, signifying the start of the games. The identity of the final torchbearer remains a secret.
When it's over, about 11,500 people will have carried the torch through 46 states since it began its U.S. relay in Atlanta on Dec. 4.
Earlier Thursday, runners carried the Olympic torch past skiing venues in the Wasatch Mountains as it headed to its final destination. Families lined the street in Midway, home of the cross-country skiing venue, and waved flags as the torch approached downtown.
Alan Truitt, 37, was the first runner to carry the torch in Midway. Truitt, who is on the board of directors of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, ran his two-tenths of a mile before passing the flame and getting swarmed by family and friends.
"It was incredibly exhilarating, a tremendous rush," Truitt said. "I had a great feeling of pride."
Kelly Milligan, a member of the 1984 U.S. cross-country ski team, ran with the torch Thursday afternoon before passing it to her older sister.
"Honestly, I was really self-conscious," she said. "I didn't fall, break the torch or singe my hair."