Dutch Height (again)

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As I have several times discussed the height of the Dutch (and other peoples) I was interested to come across a reference to this article. Unfortunately I don’t at present have access to the full article (without paying $30), but the abstract says:

In the late-Middle Ages and at the onset of the early modern period, the Dutch population was taller than in the first half of the 19th century. This inference is partially based on skeletal evidence, mainly collected by the Dutch physical anthropologist George Maat and his co-workers. A spectacular increase in Dutch heights began in the second half of the 19th century and accelerated in the second half of the 20th century. At the end of the 20th century, the Dutch became tallest in the world.



  1. Oddly, few Dutch basketball players in the NBA. Lots of Lithuanians, Serbs, and Croats. A few baseball players (Bert Blyleven). Eddie Van Halen and his brother.  
    The Wiki shows Lithuanians as significantly shorter than Dutch (by 6.5 cm). People in the Dinaric Alps (in Serbia) are taller, however, by 3 cm.

  2. Oddly, few Dutch basketball players in the NBA. Lots of Lithuanians, Serbs, and Croats. A few baseball players (Bert Blyleven). Eddie Van Halen and his brother. 
    If you look at the top 3 international superstars in the NBA (Dirk, Parker and Nash) two of them Nash and Parker are only 6’3 and 6’2 respectively.

  3. As a guy who is 6’4″, I can assure you that tall does not necessarily equate to athletic. Also, the Dutch are not particularly into basketball vis the Serbians/Croatians and the Lithuanians.

  4. On second thought both Parker and Nash are point guards who are usually not the tallest men on the team anyway.

  5. Come on, chaps, is the news that the Dutch are tall or that the Americans aren’t?

  6. The news is the rate of increase, which doesn’t look like slowing down. My Dutch informant tells me doctors are now administering drugs to kids in Holland to prevent them growing too tall because they are getting spinal problems. 
    He makes it sound like something out of control. He’s 6’2″ and he was the shortest kid in his class.

  7. Now the guys who are into leggy women know where to look. Celebheights says that Famke Janssen is 5’11.5 — damn, didn’t know she was that tall. Ah well, still plenty of 5’3 fish in the Mediterranean Sea.

  8. KingM: 6’4″ isn’t tall for basketball, it’s short. 
    Past about 6’10 the athletic ability needed by a basketball player (i.e. a reserve center) is pretty moderate. There just aren’t enough healthy people that tall.

  9. It’s very weird how consistently many of the best male tennis players are 6’1″. It seems to be about the optimum balance between height over the net and mobility. There have been great players both taller and shorter than that, of course. If I didn’t have a real life I’d plot the heights of the current top ranked 50 players and see how close the mean is to 6’1″. 
    Not to mention the great Venus Williams, of course, who I note has just broken her own serving record at the US Open with a 129 mph rocket.

  10. I’m 6′-4″ and I’d rather have been 6′-1″. Being tall is great if you are more coordinated than average, but I’m about average in coordination, so I look gawky at my height.

  11. What’s your serve like?

  12. The great heavyweight boxers seem to be 205 lb – 220 lb (Foreman). Bigger guys have boxed but they weren’t champions.  
    I haven’t seen a comprehensive list, and I don’t know about the last 15 years ago, which seems to have been a mess.

  13. The great heavyweight boxers seem to be 205 lb – 220 lb (Foreman). Bigger guys have boxed but they weren’t champions.  
    I haven’t seen a comprehensive list, and I don’t know about the last 15 years ago, which seems to have been a mess.
    The current top ten heavyweights, according to Boxrec, and their weights at their most recent fights: 
    Wladimir Klitschko – 245 
    Sam Peter – 249 
    Ruslan Chagaev – 228 
    Oleg Maskaev – 240 
    Nicolai Valuev – 319 (7’0″ tall) 
    Sultan Ibragimov – 221 
    Tony Thompson – 248 
    Vladimir Virchis – 248 
    Matt Skelton – 249 
    John Ruiz – 238 
    Fighters in the 205 – 220 range of yore are quite undersized in the heavyweight division today. Many boxers with natural weights in that range now cut below 200 and compete as cruiserweights.

  14. Peter and John: 
    I wonder what the heavyweights these days would weigh without anabolic steroids and other pharmacological goodies? I’ve done a fair bit of amateur boxing and judo and I agree with Emmanuel Stewart’s comments that for boxers, it is extremely rare to find a guy over 6’4″ with the coordination, reflexes and handspeed to be a good boxer. Basically, over this height the advantage that reach provides is negated by being a slow, oafish goof. Also, size and bulk help, and having a taller frame enables you to carry more weight, but, if you look at the tables in any exercise physiology textbook, you’ll find that oxygen uptake capacity per kilo of body mass tends to decrease markedly as body weight goes up (as Bas Rutten likes to harp on). Basically, when you get too big, you tend to gas out too easily. (Try boxing for a three minute round or doing 5 minutes of judo randoori or MMA sparring – you’ll see just how important cardio is). I think that without chemical supplementation, about 220lbs., or for really tall (e.g. 6’4″) fighters, 230lbs is about the max one can weigh with the cardio requirements of boxing or MMA. So basically, I think the ideal heavyweight (without drugs) is between 6′ and 6’4″ and weighs around 215lbs. to 230lbs. This provides the optimum balance of reach and size while still maintaining enough athleticism and cardio. 
    Also, I think modern performance enhancing drugs have been a bigger boon to taller athletes. Controlling for tendon insertion points and efficiency of muscle fiber recruitment (which, as far as I know, have no correlation with stature), muscular strength is basically a function cross-sectional area (breadth times depth). If you were to be twice as big and your shape stayed proportional, you would be 4 times stronger, but 8 times heavier. If you didn’t stay proportional and just got longer/taller, you would get no strength improvement, but would be adding weight due to increasing the 3rd (length) dimension. Additionally, the longer the limb (actually the farther the center of gravity of the limb is from the pivot point (joint)), the torque is greater and it takes greater force to set the limb in motion or change direction. This is why really, really tall people (8′ types) generally have such trouble walking and need leg braces (e.g., Rober Wadlow at 8’11″). It is also why smaller athletes tend to do everything percentually better, even if not as well in absolute terms (e.g., the lightest weight classes of Olympic weightlifters can lift over 3 times their body weight over their heads while the super heavies can’t even manage 2 times). It is also why shorter athletes tend to dominate sports that have mostly to do with control of their own bodies and changing direction, acceleration, getting leverage for pusing or collisions (low man wins) and how quickly one can move one’s body some multiple of one’s body length (e.g., gymnastics, rugby props, NFL half-backs – Ladanian Tomlinsin is listed at 5’10″ and Brian Westbrook, who I’ve seen in person, is at best 5’8″ and Barry Sanders was 5’7″), though fall short in things where absolute lever-length, reach, leverage from a longer acceleration path, moving an absolute distance quickly, or bulk win out rather than the best performance relative to size (e.g., baseball pitcher, front court basketball player, “long-sprints” (i.e., 200 and 400m), offensive lineman). In most sporting activities, as the atheletes get bigger, there comes a point where the benefits of a larger frame start to be overcome by the losses from an increasingly relatively underpowered frame and problems overcomming greater torque in the limbs. For some sports, like gymnastics, taller athletes probably never have an advantage, for others, like boxing, I would say the break point is around 6’4″, for NFL running backs, around 5′ll” or 6′, for tennis players, 6’2″ or 3″, etc. I think the effect of performance enhancing drugs has been to provide an unnaturally heavy musculature that increases power to weight ratio in athletes, which in turn has allowed taller athletes to better expoit the advantages conferred by their larger frames, whereas in the past they would have been uncompetitive, underpowered goofs. NFL linemen and their recent precipitous increase in average height (which apears to have gone from 6’3″ in the 1980s to 6’5″ or 6″ today, absent such a change in the US population in general, are a good example of this. I can remember attending a summer football camp between my junior and senior year of highschool at a Division I University and the line coach was drooling over this one kid who was around 6’5″ and 270lbs. at age 17. The kid didn’t move very well and when the coach expressed some interest in him, the kid commented that unfortunately he didn’t have very quick feet. The coach responded, “Son, we just want your frame. We can give you stuff that will make you into an athlete.” ;-) Nice to see how much athletic programs care about the kids. What’s the average life expectancy for NFL vets these days? Gee, only 49 years vs. 75 for males in the general population. I wonder why?

  15. Philly Guy - 
    Oh indeed, boxers can be too large. I’m thinking of the WBO championship fight a few months back between titleholder Shannon Briggs (6’4″, 270#s) and challenger Sultan Ibragimov (6’2″, 220#s). Ibragimov spent most of the fight dancing around just outside the elephantine, immobile Briggs’s range, coming in to land enough punches (while avoiding Briggs’s punches) to win an easy decision and the title. It was a very clear example of how speed and mobility can be superior to sheer mass. 
    Incidentally, Ibragimov’s first title defense, in October, will be interesting for another reason – he will be fighting Evander Holyfield, one week before Holyfield’s 45th birthday.

  16. I don’t really follow boxing, but people don’t talk as if the guys on Peter’s list are on a par with Ali, Foreman, Frazier, and others of that era (the biggest of whom was 220 lbs.)  
    Sports fans do tend toward nostalgia, however, and in sports where there are objective records (e.g. track and field) there’s a tendency toward continual improvement (though I believe that it’s slowed in T&F). There are special problems in boxing, though, with multiple rankings and the complex semi-criminal political manoeuvring.  
    In the old days the talent pool for boxing was pretty small. Rocky Marciano was a legendary heavyweight champ and he fought at 180. Boxing requires a high level of skill and conditioning, and maybe in the old days there just weren’t big guys who reached that level.

  17. Some people claim that the talent pool for heavyweight boxers in the United States has diminished in recent decades because the sort of people who might have gone into boxing a couple of generations ago are now playing in the NFL. The theory’s proponents also say this explains why there’s been less perceived talent decline in the lighter weight divisions – fewer sports opportunities for smaller men – and why so many of the top heavyweights now come from Russia and Eastern Europe – no NFL to compete for talent.

  18. There has been at least one Dutchman in the NBA. I’m no sports fan, but I lived in Tuscaloosa when Shaquille O’Neal was still at LSU, so I couldn’t help seeing the rival team’s games, whether I wanted to or not (only one broadcast channel, and I couldn’t afford cable). 
    I vividly remember Shaquille’s backup center as a huge Dutchman with a flattop haircut who once threw the ball inbounds with both feet five or six inches over the line. Googling ‘Shaquille backup LSU center’ or something like that just now, I find that his name was Geert Hammink, and that the #2 hit on Google, The 10 Worst Stiffs Ever in the NBA, makes him #9 all-time. They sum up his career like this: despite being a first-round draft pick, he had “four NBA seasons, 1.8 PPG, 0.9 RPG, and a career total of two assists”. Perhaps an actual sports fan can name another Dutchman in the NBA.

  19. Rik Smits (7’4″) was by far the best Dutchman ever to play in the NBA (12 year career, averaged 14.8 ppg and 6.1 rpg (best seasons 18.5 ppg and 7.7 rpg) and he was actually one of the better centers in the league (he always seemed to have Patrick Ewing’s number – though I always considered Ewing overrated and thought it laughable that anyone would name him in the same breath as Robinson, Olajuwon, or O’Neal).

  20. The best height for tennis players is indeed around 6 feet 1 or 1.85-1.87 
    If they are taller they have problems reaching low balls, they dont move as well, and it seems to me that they get injured more often. 
    If they are shorter, their serve is not as good and they have to play only from the baseline because they dont have enough reach to be successful at the net. 
    Sampras and Federer are both around 1.85