TOKYO, SEPT. 18 -- The International Olympic Committee tonight selected Atlanta to be the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics, voting for the space, security and civil rights history of the American city over a sentimental bid from Athens, birthplace of the modern Games.

The Georgia capital won the right to host the centennial games of the modern Olympic era by a 51 to 35 vote over Athens on the fifth round of balloting here. Belgrade, Toronto, Manchester, England, and Melbourne, Australia, were eliminated in earlier votes.

Atlanta will be the third U.S. city to host the Summer Games, following St. Louis (1904) and Los Angeles (1932, 1984). The United States hosted the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., and the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Organizers plan to hold the sailing events in the port city of Savannah 200 miles away, but most other competition will be staged within a downtown circle three miles in diameter dubbed the "Olympic Ring."

Japanese IOC delegate Chiharu Igaya and other IOC members said they were impressed by Atlanta's stature as the heart of the American civil rights movement. Igaya said he noticed that the people who came here to promote the southern city included Georgia's white governor, Joe Frank Harris, Atlanta's black mayor, Maynard Jackson, and a biracial corps of backers called the "Atlanta Dream Team."

Presenting Atlanta's case before the IOC members just before the vote today, Jackson and former civil rights leader Andrew Young, the chairman of the Atlanta Organizing Committee, argued that Atlanta's racial harmony could be a model for international accord among the different races and nationalities that will attend the 1996 Games.

"Everybody on the committee knew who Martin Luther King Jr. was, and everybody knew that Atlanta was his home," said U.S. Olympic Committee member Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles. "What was more important today was that they all knew who Andy Young was, and they listened when he talked about race relations in Atlanta."

To foster this spirit, Jackson spent the last few days here spouting lyrical slogans such as "World peace through world sport" and "The world has one dream -- to be on one team."

Athenians invented the Olympic idea in the 8th century B.C. when Greek soldiers competed in running, boxing, wrestling, archery and discus- and spear-throwing on the plain below Mount Olympus. When the modern, global Olympic Games began in 1896, the first Olympiad was held in Athens. All that history was at the heart of Athens's bid for the Games that will mark the 100th year of modern Olympic competition.

According to Robert Helmick, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and one of two U.S. delegates to the IOC, the emotional pull for Athens was offset by concerns about the Greek capital's pollution, political instability and crowded conditions. Of the six contending cities, Athens was rated by IOC evaluators as the worst on technical matters such as communications and traffic control.

"But there also was the question of which direction you're looking," Helmick added. "If you want to look back at history, you go to Athens. If you want to look ahead to the next century, you go to the new world."

Geography was another problem for Athens, because the 1992 Games (summer in Barcelona, winter in Albertville, France) and the 1994 Winter Games (Lillehammer, Norway) will be held in Europe. "I was concerned about sending the Games to Europe after three straight times," said Igaya.

To counter the argument that the Olympics should not be held in the United States so soon after the 1984 Games, Atlanta distributed maps showing that the distance between California and Georgia is greater than the east-west span of mainland Europe.

Atlanta promised some $500 million in new facilities for the Games, including a 15,000-seat swimming center, a new bicycle velodrome and two new stadiums -- a domed facility seating 72,000 that will house gymnastics and basketball, and an 85,000-seat Olympic Stadium for opening and closing ceremonies and track and field events. The domed stadium is scheduled to be completed in time to host pro football's 1994 Super Bowl.

In addition, Atlanta's bid held the possibility of unusually high broadcast fees. American TV networks, the highest bidders for the Games, presumably will pay more for Olympics when key events can be broadcast live during prime time on the U.S. East Coast.

There were 86 IOC members voting today, with 44 votes needed to win. Belgrade was eliminated on the first ballot, Manchester on the second, Melbourne on the third and Toronto on the fourth. Athens and Atlanta finished first and second on most of the ballots.

On the final ballot, most of the members who had been supporting "Toronto evidently swung toward Atlanta, and that provided the winning margin.

"The best thing Atlanta had going for it was the tremendous sense of cooperation," said Vitaly Smirnov, Soviet member of the IOC. "You could see it here, all the people who came to Tokyo. The city council voted unanimously for the Olympics. The governor was here, the mayor -- people really wanted to hold the Games. They showed us how they had managed the 1988 Democratic convention. They convinced us they can handle an event like this."

Asked what he remembered most from his inspection trip to Atlanta, Smirnov said: "The people. They were wonderful. They didn't let any IOC member stay in hotels. We were always with a family."

Athenians were stunned by their loss. They knew they had trouble earlier in this meeting when their committee chairman, Spyros Metaxa, angered some IOC members by declaring that, "Morally, the Games belong to us." But after tonight's announcement, they could barely express their shock and frustration.

Almost as shaken as the Athenian delegation were representatives from Salt Lake City, which is competing for the 1998 Winter Olympics. The choice of an American venue for 1996 may prove a fatal blow for the Utah city's chances.

Organizers of the IOC meeting at a sprawling hotel complex here orchestrated the announcement of the 1996 host city with Oscar-like flair, milking the moment for every drop of melodrama.

The committee voted early in the evening by secret ballot, and the result, unknown even to the IOC members, was placed in a sealed envelope. The moment when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch opened the seal was telecast live around the world.

Before he revealed the choice, though, Samaranch listened to a performance by a Japanese koto orchestra, asked the audience to stand for the playing of the Olympic anthem, and then gave a speech.

All this created so much tension in the ballroom where several hundred Atlantans were waiting that people literally swooned and gasped aloud from the suspense.

When Samaranch finally revealed that Atlanta was the choice, the room virtually erupted in an explosion of cheers, whistles, whoops and chants. Shortly thereafter, residents of the Tokyo neighborhood of Takanawa were treated to the unusual spectacle of several dozen boisterous U.S. teenagers snaking through the streets chanting "Atlanta '96! Atlanta '96!"

"When I heard the word 'Atlanta,' " Jackson said, "I felt like an exclamation point had just been laid down in the life of our city."