How Cayla Smith and Jared McPike won Winter Youth Olympic silver after only five months together

By Scott Mammoser, Team FSO contributing writer
Photos by Getty Images and U.S. Figure Skating

After winning a silver medal at the Youth Olympics, U.S. pairs skaters Cayla Smith and Jared McPike have motivation going forward. With only five months training as a team, the high school juniors placed second at the event January in Gangwon, South Korea.

“It was a really unique experience,” Cayla said. “It was like a mini Olympics. We got to skate on the Olympic ice from PyeongChang in 2018. We got to skate on the same ice that Olympians have skated on before, and a lot of our role models have skated on that ice. It’s really exciting to stay in the village with all of the other athletes from different sports and countries. It was a really cool experience.”

Cayla said that U.S. Figure Skating called her last year since it was known she was looking for a partner. The U.S. Figure Skating representative noted that Jared was training in Colorado and both were age eligible for the Youth Olympics and if she would be interested in a tryout. Cayla traveled to Colorado in July for the tryout. They decided it was a fit, despite the lack of training time. Jared later came to Cayla’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a longer tryout, and in September, the partnership became full time. There would be no Junior Grand Prix assignments or Nationals, but it was worth it, according to Cayla.

“I feel like the Youth Olympics is a once in a lifetime event,” she said. “Not a lot of people get to do it because the age restrictions are such a narrow age you have to fit.”

The Winter Youth Olympics began in 2012 for athletes turning between 15 and 18 that calendar year. Jared turns 17 on March 2, while Cayla will turn 16 in July. The U.S. also won the silver medal in the team event, behind South Korea, with Canada claiming bronze. Jacob Sanchez, Sherry Zhang, plus ice dancers Olivia Ilin and Dylan Cain were additional members of the American team. Ilin and Cain also won the silver medal in their event.

The pairs event boasted only four teams, and the Americans said they became friendly with the other three teams. Annika Behnke and Kole Sauve of Canada won gold, Carolina Campillo and Pau Vilella of Spain won bronze, while the Australians Peyton Bellamy-Martins and Kryshtof Pradeaux wound up in the painful fourth position.

“The people there were really special,” Jared added. “Showing up to an event like that, where there are only four pairs teams and seeing a crowd that big and that supportive, was really a highlight for me. It made it easier to skate for me, knowing it was for the audience.”

Jared competed in ice dance when he was younger and was in intermediate pairs last season. Cayla skated pairs with Andy Deng. Together they won the bronze medal at the 2022 Junior Grand Prix Final in Torino and own a first-place finish from the Junior Grand Prix Riga Cup.

“It’s definitely been hard because he (Jared) has less experience than my old partner,” Cayla said of the transition. “My old partner and I had been skating together for three years. It was hard to start at square one, learning a whole new partner, then build up together. It was worth it, obviously.”

In addition to their pairs team, both Cayla and Jared are currently competing in singles, as well.

“Usually when we train pairs,” Cayla continued, “we do an hour to an hour and a half pairs, then we do a little bit off ice. Then, the second session we skate, I focus on my singles, and he has more flexibility to do it earlier in the day. I am at the rink from 2 to 7 most days, and he is there earlier.”

While Jared’s family still has a home in Colorado, he stays at a grandparent’s house in Indiana and attends school there.

“For me, Cayla has more experience in pairs,” Jared said. “I’ve been feeding off that experience, and she gives good advice. I think that’s the best thing. It’s just school and the rink, then back home. It’s different, but manageable. It was a quick adjustment because we only had five months, but I think with the help of Coach Alena (Lunin), it was helpful to get me to that transition, plus the help of Cayla with her experience. I was learning things that were new and adjust to the best of my ability.”

For their short program this season, Cayla and Jared skated to “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor and performed by Postmodern Jukebox. The free skate was “Heart of Courage” and “Somewhere in Time.”

“When I skate singles, I usually skate to a faster and more fun short program because I get to express my personality that way,” Cayla continued. “That is what she (Alena Lunin) is thinking because Jared hasn’t really found his style yet. She knew we could really show off my strong suits and get some components going. Our long program is super powerful music, and I had experience skating to powerful music in pairs, and she thinks that’s what you need in pairs is to show off everything fully, completely and cleanly. It was a beautiful program, I loved it.”

The team is not registered for another competition yet. While Jared is undecided on college, Cayla said she is interested in criminal psychology or perhaps coaching. Future Olympics are the ultimate goal, and after Gangwon, it feels more attainable.

“I feel like the goal is more graspable now,” Cayla added, “more in reach because we have experience for such a little time and then we got to where we were. If we actually put in the hours and train together more, that’s definitely in reach.”