While all Americans can celebrate Atlanta's successful bid to host the 1996 Olympic Summer Games, there is no doubt that the choice will make it more difficult for Utah to get the 1998 Winter Games. But the key word is "difficult," not "impossible."

The problem arises because the IOC - International Olympic Committee - rarely awards both the Summer and Winter Games to the same country in succession. With Atlanta hosting the 1996 Summer Games, the next Olympic event would be the 1998 Winter Games sought by Utah.Certainly, this lineup increases the odds against Utah. Yet the Salt Lake-Wasatch Front area was considered by many to be the leading contender for the 1998 Winter Games, and it is not automatically disqualified simply because of the selection of Atlanta for the Summer Games.

The five other candidates for the 1998 Winter Games are Nagano, Japan, thought to be the most significant rival to Utah's bid; Jaca, Spain; Ostersund, Sweden; Sochi, USSR; and Aosta, Italy. These five and Utah are still in the running and the IOC decision won't be made until next June at a meeting in England.

Judging from remarks by some delegates from those other nations, they think Utah is about to drop out. Nothing is further from the truth. This is one battle that is only beginning.

As long as there is no written rule about one country hosting Summer and Winter Games in succession - and there is not - Utah still has a legitimate chance. If the bid is good enough, persuasive enough, exciting enough, Utah can still prevail.

Utah has a powerful argument for being able to host the 1998 Winter Games. The last time the United States had the Winter Olympics on its soil was at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980. By the time 1998 rolls around, 18 years will have passed without a U.S. host for the Winter Games. That should carry some weight.

Likewise, don't forget that the Salt Lake area remains the choice of the U.S. Olympic Committee for the 1998 Winter Games and also for the next Winter Games in 2002, if necessary. The 2002 date is a fallback position, an unhappy postponement, but it represents the long-term commitment of the U.S. Olympic Committee to the Utah site.

Last year, Utah voters approved the spending of $56 million in diverted sales tax revenue to construction of Olympic winter sports facilities - even if the Winter Games do not come to Utah in 1998.

That remains a good investment. A major reason for having such facilities is the need of the United States to have a first-class training center for Olympic Winter Games for years to come. Fulfilling that need is not directly connected with Utah hosting the Olympic games, although some projects - such as speed-skating ovals - might not be built without Olympic television revenues.

Sooner or later, Utah seems bound to host the Olympic Winter Games because of the great winter sports conditions and opportunities here. This is no time to jump overboard in panic. Utah and the U.S. Olympic Committee will just have to row harder.