In the wake of Atlanta's acquisition of the rights to the 1996 Summer Olympics, there is speculation that Salt Lake City's chances to win the rights to the 1998 Winter Olympics are down to four: fat, slim, none and off-the-board.

About the same as Oakland getting the Raiders back.As the Cubs winning a pennant.

As Saddam Hussein saying he was only kidding.

There is logic behind the speculation. If the United States has an Olympics in `96, how could they award the next Olympics, in `98, to another

city in the same country? Even if Salt Lake and Atlanta are 2,000 miles apart and speak different languages, they are still in the same hemisphere and tune into the same TV networks.

But there is a flaw in this thinking and it is this: The International Olympic Committee does not have a history of being logical.

The IOC has a history of being as logical as Zsa Zsa Gabor.

The latest site-awarding convention in Tokyo, the one that gave Atlanta the nod this past Tuesday, is the latest proof.

The heavy sentimental favorite to win the 1996 bid was Athens, Greece. Not only is Greece the birthplace of the ancient Olympic movement, when there was mainly one big footrace and then a party afterward that lasted for two weeks, but it was in Athens, in 1896, that the modern Olympic movement began. Since the 1996 Games will be the 100th anniversary of the modern era, Athens would have been the logical place for the reunion.

Next to Athens, Melbourne, Australia, was thought to be the most logical choice, and not only because of the recent diplomatic successes of Mick Dundee and Greg Norman but also because the Olympics haven't visited the Southern Hemisphere in nearly 50 years, since the '56 Games, also held in Melbourne, and a lot of the IOC members from that part of the world are getting tired of them having to be the ones always taking 14-hour flights.

Atlanta and Toronto - from the Western Hemisphere - and Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and Manchester, England, rounded out the contenders - and were the longer shots.

So who won? Atlanta won, out-voting Athens in the final vote of the day after the other four contenders had been eliminated.

Atlanta wasn't even the top vote-getter until the fourth of the five ballots.

According to published reports, Athens was the early popular choice among the 86 voting IOC members - but couldn't get the needed 44 votes (a majority) to finish off the voting early.

On the first ballot, Athens was the leader, Melbourne was second and Atlanta third but no city got a majority vote so the city with the lowest votes - sorry, Belgrade - was eliminated and the voting moved on to a second ballot . . .

Which was like the first ballot, and Manchester was eliminated.

On the third ballot, enough voters who had supported Manchester went to Toronto and Atlanta and the committee said G'day to Melbourne.

On the fourth ballot, Atlanta, for the first time, emerged as the top vote-getter. It got 34 votes to 30 for Athens and 22 for Toronto. Exit the Canadians.

Now it was down to one vote, winner take `96, and an interesting political type thing happened.

Virtually all of Toronto's backers jumped to Atlanta.

Hemispheres tend to stick together.

Atlanta got 51 votes to 35 for Athens.

The announcement caught everyone by surprise, including the delegation from Atlanta.

The fact that the 1984 Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and the 1988 Winter Games were held in Calgary, Canada, was supposed to make Atlanta an improbable choice for 1996. Future bids for the 2000 or 2004 Olympiads made more sense.

As the modern Olympiad's historial roll call shows, there have been numerous surprise choices.

Awarding the 1988 Summer Games to Seoul was a complete surprise, especially since the South Korean city was awash with riots and demonstrations at the time the bid was awarded. So, too, was the awarding of the 1994 Winter Games to Norway, when Oostersund, Sweden - a city that had spent considerably more time, effort and money - was considered a shoo-in.

In the Winter Games, there has been no rhyme or reason as to continents and hemispheres. There was a stretch from 1936 through 1956 when all of the Games were held in Europe. And it was rather inexplicable when Calgary won the 1988 bid even though another North American city, Lake Placid, N.Y., had staged the 1980 Games.

Atlanta's success may have hurt Salt Lake's chances for 1998, or it may have helped. It would seem hard to say. In six months the 86 IOC members will convene again, this time in Birmingham, England, to award the '98 Winter Games. It should be obvious that the outcome is hardly a foregone conclusion for any of the six contenders. It depends on who gets eliminated, and whose votes you inherit. That's the real Olympic Game.