The name on the world's lips is Atlanta, home of the centennial Olympics in 1996. Few upsets in sports can surpass Tuesday's final score from Tokyo: Atlanta 51, Athens 35 in four overtimes. Or five ballots, if you will.

In the end, Atlanta's roads and airports, its rapid transit system and its world-class telecommunications, not to mention the vast energy of its people and its history on civil rights, seduced the International Olympic Committee into turning its back on symbolic Athens.

However, in the beginning, all Atlanta had on its side was Billy Payne.

Now, everybody's on the Olympic bandwagon. And they all deserve credit -- from former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and current mayor Maynard Jackson all the way to President George Bush, who helped make the final pitch.

Before there was any bandwagon, there was one man with a preposterously personal vision. The '96 Olympics has been awarded to Atlanta because of one person -- a 42-year-old lawyer who was an all-American football player at Georgia. Payne was a Bulldog then. And he is now.

Not many people know more about the marriage between sports, television and money than Bob Wussler, president of Comsat and former head of CBS Sports. "Four years ago, Billy Payne came into my office and told me his idea," Wussler said yesterday. "I said, 'Billy, no way. Don't waste your time.' "

But Payne forged on. For the last three years, he's worked without salary, traveling all over the world to raise money and spread the word on Atlanta. While other U.S. cities such as Minneapolis, San Francisco and Nashville splurged for postage to mail their presentations to the U.S. Olympic Committee, Payne and his hard-core group of boosters showed up in Denver in person. Their presentation: five black-bound volumes that weighed 17 pounds and cost $750,000 to create.

"First, Billy Payne believed. Then he organized. Then he raised money, both public and private," said Wussler. "He has a great personality . . . outgoing, fun-loving, devil-may-care, but buttoned-up too. He has his act together. . . . He sold himself. Then he sold Atlanta.

"And it's a terrific city to sell. It has the three things the Olympic people really care about -- roads, rapid transit and airports. Stadiums you can build in a couple of years. But those other things take a decade. Atlanta had them."

Most of all, Payne tapped into Atlanta's enthusiastic and multiracial booster spirit. This is the town -- home of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King -- which proudly bills itself as "a city too busy to hate."

Young and Jackson, in their turns, embraced the Olympic cause. But so did almost everyone in Atlanta. For example, Georgia Tech cooked up a video presentation to knock the eyes out of IOC members. The dignitaries sat in a theater, pushed the button of their choice and, suddenly, the room seemed to turn into an airplane that was flying them through Atlanta directly to the venue they wanted to inspect.

In the case of unbuilt facilities, like the 72,000-seat Georgia Dome where the 1994 Super Bowl will be played, the Techies found ways to blend futuristic graphics with real images to take those IOC members into the future as well as all over town.

"The key was that Atlanta made it so obvious that the entire community was behind them," said Robert Helmick, president of the USOC. "They even had George Bush on videotape."

Thanks to the hustling tone set by Payne, Atlanta's enthusiasm was as craftily orchestrated as it was genuine. When IOC members came to town, Atlanta mobilized civilian troops and inundated the visitor with "spontaneous" Olympic spirit and pep rallies.

"Any Olympics needs a great director or general," Wussler said. "It won't be Peter Ueberroth again. He's not the sort to relive the past. I don't know if it will be Billy Payne or not, but you could do a lot worse. He deserves all the credit in the world."

For Payne, the work came to a head yesterday in Tokyo. "The word was out for the last week that it was Athens all the way," said Wussler.

On the first ballot, no city got the requisite 44 votes out of 86 nations. But Athens led, as expected. On each subsequent ballot, one city was eliminated. Slowly, Atlanta gained ground, largely because Young had laid solid groundwork with African nations.

"After our presentation this afternoon, I left the room in tears, although I don't know whether it was relief or fear or joy," Payne told Post reporter T.R. Reid in Tokyo. "Now {after the vote}, my wife and I are crying for joy.

"Andy Young and Maynard Jackson are a pair of politicians like you've never seen. Andy said this was one election he couldn't figure out and then he went to work on the voters."

In recent months, the IOC has seen an Atlanta that blends 21st century pizazz with tradition. Visit the home of Coca-Cola and CNN as well as "Gone With The Wind." Come eat catfish on Peachtree Street, but remember that Bell South, AT&T and IBM can customize an Olympic satellite feed to meet the needs of each nation.

All of a sudden, Athens's acidic air and traffic snarls started looking worse. Then, when the IOC visited, the city's telephone service crashed. Athens was state-of-the-art in 776 B.C.; but these days the Parthenon is crumbling from air polution and, if Plato were alive, he probably couldn't get a dial tone to call Socrates.

Melbourne, Australia, made a late rush, but how much would an American TV network pay for the right to broadcast a big event at 4 a.m.? Toronto, as stunningly modern as Atlanta, was another contender. But it didn't have Payne and his rebel-yell safety-blitz style. Toronto became a divided town, even sending anti-Olympic protesters to Tokyo.

So, as the sun set in the land of the rising sun, Payne went out on the town to celebrate. He and his party closed down the Bia Gardens in the wee hours. Finally, around 3 a.m., he got back to his hotel room. The phone rang. Another American reporter on the line.

"It's pretty exciting," said Payne. "Oops, sorry, I dropped the phone."

"Billy," I said, getting the picture, "most people would celebrate this day with a few bottles of champagne."

"I have," he said blissfully.