Turns out the summer's most amazing sports-action commercial isn't for the Olympic Games. It's for the Paralympic Games—and it's a triumph of skillful direction and gritty, powerful storytelling.
The 90-second spot, posted below, is a promo for Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics, to be held in London from Aug. 29 through Sept. 9. (The regular Olympics run July 27 through Aug. 12.) Directed by Tom Tagholm and produced in-house by Channel 4, the Paralympics spot uses brilliantly immersive camerawork and the blaring soundtrack of Public Enemy's "Harder Than You Think" to create a potent atmosphere of struggle, defiance, camaraderie and elation. Much of the ad consists of action footage, much of it filmed at Paralympic test events. But in the middle of the spot, the footage shifts away from the track, the gym and the pool—suddenly we are in a war zone exploding with bombs and gunfire; a highway as a car is flipping over; a hospital as an expectant mother holds her belly and grimaces. These are the origin stories of the Paralympic athletes, moments when lifelong challeges bloomed and hurdles sprang up—only to be vanquished in the furious redemption of high-level sport. The tagline is: "Meet the Superhumans."
Tagholm offers some background about the spot  on Channel 4's blog. "We really didn't want to shoot around the particular physical attributes of these athletes and their disabilities," he says. "We wanted to absolutely embrace all of that—their stance, the ways they've adapted to their sport, the ways that they use their bodies. It's very much 'Here we are!' y'know? There's no tiptoeing around anything."
The flashback scenes were crucial, he adds, and not meant to be sentimental. "One thing that we weren't interested at all in doing was an advert which said 'Isn't it great that these guys have made it to the start line?' That just didn't interest me and I don't think it interested the channel," Tagholm says. "What I wanted to do, though, was just get a flashback moment—to show that it's a part of what they are now and a part of their physicality. I didn't want to dwell on it, just to give a hint, a moment of just how tough these characters have had to be."
Now, they have a tough advertisement to match.
Client: Channel 4
Director: Tom Tagholm