SKATING TO VICTORY

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Kicking off 1994's Cover Story survey are January winners rival U.S. figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. They narrowly beat out actor Denzel Washington and coverage of the Los Angeles earthquake.

The Olympic skaters became household names last month after Ms. Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee in an attack allegedly orchestrated by Ms. Harding and others close to her. Last week, Ms. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, struck a plea bargain in which he implicated Ms. Harding in the Jan. 6 attack.

The January survey also marks the debut of a recalibrated Cover Story scoring system.

While the old way of counting covers of 30 leading magazines gave an accurate representation of the nation's most popular celebrities in any given month, it did have some flaws. It gave an edge, for instance, to those celebrities who appear week in, week out on the covers of supermarket tabloids.

The new scoring system corrects that imbalance by awarding celebrities 3 points for a monthly magazine cover, 2 points for an every-other-weekly and 1 point for a weekly. There is a half-point bonus for having the largest photo on a cover, and there is a 1-point bonus for appearing on the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the same week.

Miss Harding and Miss Kerrigan combined to appear on six covers for a total of 7 points. Both skaters will likely dominate the survey again in February, as the Winter Olympics get under way next week in Lillehammer, Norway.

Somewhat of a surprise in second place was Mr. Washington, star of such recent films as "The Pelican Brief" and "Philadelphia." Appearances on GQ and Premiere nabbed him 6 points.

The devastating Los Angeles earthquake last month dominated an entire week of newsmagazines. The tragedy made the covers of five different magazines and received 4.5 points, good for third place.

River Phoenix, the young actor who died of a drug overdose last year, finished fourth with 4 points in January's survey. The media have made Mr. Phoenix into a symbol of young Hollywood's party culture, as evidenced by articles in last month's People and Spin magazines.

Placing fifth was a familiar Cover Story face-Oprah Winfrey. The talk show chattress and tabloid favorite got 3.5 points for doing practically nothing newsworthy.

A slew of celebrities tied up the sixth place slot, each with 3 points: country music's mother-daughter duo The Judds; actress and talk show host Ricki Lake; really rich Texan and one-time presidential hopeful Ross Perot; and poet Henry Rollins.

Finishing last, but by no means least, were Hollywood's divorcing duo, Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds.

Last year, the couple generated a record-setting 111 points to capture the 1993 Cover Story crown. But they will have to work harder to equal last year's performance; they only managed 1.5 points in January.M

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