THE Netherlands' sporting prowess is dictated by two factors; water and space. And, of course, bicycles. It has often been argued that there are more bicycles than people in Holland, popping up the odd bicycle champion now and again. The country that has been substantially reclaimed from the sea has an abundance of water, both inland and off-shore, giving plenty of room for water sports such as swimming, sailing, sail boarding, windsurfing, water polo and speed skating. However, there is not much room in the congested heartland for sports grounds to mushroom. Despite that, Holland's 14 million population has a giant-killing sports reputation. It has produced what are arguably some of the best football teams and football players in the world. Take, for example, the Dutch national teams of the 1970s and the 1990s and teams such as Ajax Amsterdam, Feyenoord Rotterdam, and PSV Eindhoven. Then consider players such as Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, plus several other Dutch football stars playing at the top of the European super leagues. Holland has 700 sports halls, or one for every 20,000 people, plus 200 outdoor artificial turf arenas, the highest in the world. Nearly five million people are members of sports clubs, the biggest of which is the Sports Federation. This not only overseesthe Olympic Committee and the national football association, but minority groups that cater to everything from sports for the handicapped to pigeon racing. The sporting organisations receive government grants and additional income from the football pools and the national lottery. This smooth running infrastructure has produced many champions, including super sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen, speed skater Ard Schenk, who won three gold medals at the Sapporo Winter Olympics, skating legend Sjoukje Dijkstra, and Yvonne van Gennip, who won three golds at Calgary. Tour de France individual cycling winners Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk and swimming star Ada Kok who won the gold for the 200 metres butterfly in Mexico are other Dutch sporting heroes. Both the Dutch men's and women's hockey teams are world class, while ice hockey is getting stronger by the year bolstered by the children of Dutch immigrants to North America. Handball and volleyball are also strong sports for the tall Dutch athletes, with basketball and tennis in the ascendant. Golf is only restricted by the lack of space, although Holland expects to throw up a Bernard Langer or two in the not-too-distant future. One of the Dutch sporting institutions is the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour), a gruelling 200-kilometre marathon ice-skating race with 17,000 competitors that is run only on years when the canals freeze over. Sometimes, there can be 20 years betweenraces. The race has produced some incredible heroics, such as the hell race of 1963 when winner Reinier Paping battled bitter sub-zero temperatures, gale force headwinds and occasional flurries of snow to gasp his way to the finishing line. It was such an accomplishment that Queen Juliana left the comforts of the Royal Palace before the race was over, travelled by helicopter to the finish line in Friesland and personally shook the hand of the winner.