They are the meets that can make or break an Olympic dream.

Olympic Trials.

Just the words can create images in the mind, of athletes striving to achieve everything they’ve worked for their entire athletic careers, of a pressure-packed competition with spots on Team Canada on the line.

This year, the Canadian Olympic Committee is teaming up with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and three National Sports Organization – Swimming Canada, Gymnastics Canada, and Athletics Canada – to bring to life the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Trials Series Presented by Bell.

With so much at stake, the competitions are sure to be thrilling to watch, as a quick peak at the past proves.

Twists and Thrills at Canadian Olympic Trials

For so many elite Canadian swimmers, what happens over seven days in early April will decide whether their Olympic dream is alive for Tokyo 2020 or on hold for another four years.

Penny Oleksiak waves after a race

Penny Oleksiak at the 2016 Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials after the 100m butterfly on April 5, 2016 (Photo: Scott Grant via Swimming Canada).

Before she became an international sensation at Rio 2016, a 15-year-old Penny Oleksiak made it clear she would be someone to watch with her trials performance. Sure, she had been a six-time medallist at the 2015 World Junior Championships, but it was the records she broke while winning the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle at the Pan Am pool in Toronto that made her Olympic breakout seem not-so-shocking to those who had been paying attention four months earlier.

Ryan Cochrane broke his own national record in the 1500m freestyle at the Canadian trials in 2008, setting him up to become Canada’s first Olympic medallist in the longest distance in the pool in 88 years in Beijing.

Looking back to 1984, Alex Baumann took two seconds off the 400m individual medley world record at the national trials before lowering the global mark once more when he claimed Olympic gold at the Games in Los Angeles.

Now in 2020, Canada has multiple Olympic medal hopefuls who want to book their tickets to Tokyo at the trials. That group includes: Kylie Masse, the two-time reigning world champion in the 100m backstroke; Maggie MacNeil, who scored one of the biggest upsets in swimming history by winning the 2019 world title in the 100m butterfly; Sydney Pickrem, who won bronze at the worlds in the 200m IM and 200m breaststroke; and Taylor Ruck, who (like Oleksiak) won medals in all three women’s relays at last year’s world championships in addition to being a threat individually.

Kylie Masse wearing her gold medal at the 2017 World Championships

Kylie Masse shows off her gold medal after the women’s 100m backstroke final at the 2017 FINA World Championships. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

The trials will also decide the fate of Brent Hayden’s comeback. At age 36, he got back in the pool, almost eight years after he won 100m freestyle bronze at London 2012. He’s now focused on the 50m freestyle, with eyes on a fourth Olympic appearance.

Canadian track and field athletes have a little longer to prepare themselves. The four-day meet which will confirm who is on Team Canada in the biggest sport at Tokyo 2020 will take place just a month before the Games begin.

Back in 2012, the 100m hurdles was the most anticipated event of the Canadian trials. Six women had met the required Olympic entry standard but only three would be allowed on the start line in London. Cue the drama. There was a false start and disqualification for 2003 world champion Perdita Felicien, reigning Olympic bronze medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep missed out her third Olympic Games, and it was Jessica Zelinka, best known as a heptathlete, who won the race.

This year, a lot of eyes will be on the men’s 100m and if it can match the excitement of last year’s Canadian championships when Aaron Brown edged out Andre De Grasse in a photo finish that took officials five minutes to decipher. Both men had gone under the 10-second barrier in the semis to set up the showdown.

Aaron Brown edges out Andre De Grasse in a photo finish

Aaron Brown edges out Andre De Garasse to win the gold medal in the men’s 100 metre final at the Canadian Championships in Montreal on Friday, July 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

There’s always the chance that some athletes will surpass their previous personal bests to get their moment in the spotlight. In 2016, Bolade Ajomale didn’t have the Olympic entry standard for the 100m before arriving at the trials. Not only did he achieve that, he finished fourth in the final to earn a spot on the 4x100m relay team, eventually being part of the bronze medal-winning squad in Rio.

How will the Olympic Trials decide who is on Team Canada at Tokyo 2020?

As with Olympic qualification and team nominations in all sports, it can be a little complicated. But here are a few things to look for:

In swimming, the absolute maximum any country can qualify is 28 men and 28 women. There is also a maximum of two athletes per individual event, provided both swimmers have met the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT, or ‘A’ standard) for the event set by FINA, the international federation.

Sydney Pickrem mid-race

Canada’s Sydney Pickrem swims in her women’s 200m breaststroke semifinal at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

To decide who will be on Team Canada in Tokyo, the first thing looked at is who finished in the top two of their event at the Olympic Trials and achieved the OQT and how that compares to the time of a Canadian medallist from the 2019 World Championships. Results at the trials will also be used to determine who will compete in the relays in which Canada has qualified.

If you want to take a deep dive into how the swimming team will be selected, you can find that information here.

In artistic gymnastics, Canada has qualified a women’s team, which will be comprised of four athletes. Athletes will be selected by Gymnastics Canada with potential for team and individual medals in Tokyo in mind. How they perform at the Olympic Trials will play a part in that process, along with results achieved at the last two world championships, particularly for athletes who were medallists or in the top eight in an individual event.

To learn more about the Olympic selection process for women’s artistic gymnastics, you can click here.

Rosie Maclennan horizontal & mid-air during a routine.

RosieMaclennan of Canada performs on the trampoline during women’s trampoline in the team all-around final at the 33rd Trampoline Gymnastics World Championships in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

There is also a podium objective in trampoline and Olympic Trials is one of the competitions that will be used when considering athlete selection. All the information about how that team will be selected can be found here.

In track and field, athletes either have to achieve an entry standard set by the international federation, World Athletics, or be deemed eligible for the Games based on their position in a World Rankings system that is new to the Olympic qualification process. There is a maximum of three entries per country in each individual event, so results at the Olympic Trials will come into play if Canada has more than three eligible athletes in an event. Regardless, Athletics Canada requires all athletes to compete at the trials if they wish to be nominated to Team Canada for Tokyo 2020.

You can read all about the selection process for athletics here.

When and where are the Olympic Trials taking place?

Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials – March 30-April 5 – Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre – Scarborough, Ontario

Canadian Gymnastics Championships – May 19-24 – Centre Sportif de Gatineau (Rhythmic) and Complexe Branchaud-Brière (Artistic and Trampoline) – Gatineau, Quebec

Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Track and Field Trials – June 25-28 – Complexe Sportif Claude-Robillard – Montreal, Quebec

Mo Ahmed leads the pack at the 2019 Canadian Championships

Men’s 5000 metre gold medalist Mohammed Ahmed leads the pack ahead of silver medalist Justyn Knight at the Canadian Championships in Montreal on Thursday, July 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

What are the schedules for the Olympic Trials?

You can find the schedules for all three competitions included in the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Trials Series Presented by Bell at 2020trials.ca.

How can I buy tickets for the Olympic Trials?

You can find the links to purchase tickets for the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, the Canadian Gymnastics Championships and the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Track and Field Trials at 2020trials.ca.