J.R. Celski, the world’s fastest speedskater ever in the 500-meter race, and Tamika Catchings, the WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player for the Indiana Fever, were chosen as the United States Sports Academy’s October Athletes of the Month.

J.R. Celski

Celski and Catchings are now candidates for the Academy’s male and female 2012 Athlete of the Year Award. For the 28th consecutive year, the Academy will oversee the worldwide online voting that runs this year for three weeks from Dec. 1-21. The winners of this prestigious award, which has been done in conjunction with NBC Sports and USA Today, is slated to be announced Dec. 25, Christmas Day.

In 2011, the male Athlete of the Year was No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic of Serbia and the female Athlete of the Year was No. 1-ranked golfer Yani Tseng of Taiwan. Both of them dominated 2011’s ballot that drew as many as 50,000 votes a day from across the world.

The 22-year-old Celski did what has never been done before. The American became the first and only short-track speedskater to break the 40-second barrier in the 500 meters. Celski set a world record of 39.973 seconds in a World Cup final in Calgary. His skate broke the record of 40.344 set by Russian Vladimir Grigorev in the preliminaries of the event. Celski also finished third in the 1000-meter finals.

Meanwhile, Catchings led Indiana to its first ever championship. The 33-year-old forward won the MVP for leading her team over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx. In Game 4 of the five-game series, the Fever were crowned the new champions as Catchings scored a game-high 25 points. The 12-year veteran added eight assists, grabbed four rebounds and made three blocks in the deciding game. In the playoffs, Catchings averaged 19.0 points, which is the highest of any WNBA player who has played in five or more postseason games.

Tamika Catchings

Finishing second in the men’s category was New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw a touchdown pass in his 48th consecutive game Sunday, Oct. 7, breaking the record set by Johnny Unitas, who held it for 52 years. Brees, whose streak has continued, threw a 40-yard first quarter TD strike to Devery Henderson for the record. Brees’ streak dates to 2009. Unitas’ streak ran from 1956 to 1960.

The runner-up to Catchings on the women’s ballot was Suzann Pettersen, an LPGA Tour player who won back-to-back tournaments in October. The Norwegian golfer captured the HanaBank Championship when she sank a 5-foot putt on the third playoff hole and then rallied to win the Taiwan Championship by three strokes. Pettersen finished with an 11-under 205 and a 19-under 269, respectively. She now has 10 LPGA Tour titles in her career.

Third place winners for October were Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers third baseman who became the first major league player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown, leading the majors in in average (.330), home runs (44) and RBIs (139); and Serena Williams, who dismissed Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3, in Istanbul, Turkey, to finish the tennis season by capturing the WTA Championships.

The public is invited to participate in the worldwide Athlete of the Month nomination and ballot voting processes. Visit the Academy website at www.ussa.edu to submit your nominations each month, and then return to the website during the first two weeks of each month to vote for the male and female Athletes of the Month. The votes along with an Academy committee choose the winners who become candidates for the Athlete of the Year. The monthly and yearly winners are announced on the Academy’s website and in the sports university’s online edition of The Sport Update.

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call 251-626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.