SESTRIERE, Italy (AP) _ A women's World Cup downhill was canceled Saturday after Picabo Street led a strong protest by the leading skiers about the setting and safety of the course.

World Cup officials and organizers decided against holding the race after a morning practice run was suspended following complaints by the leading downhillers about the setting of the Kandahar-Banchetta track, site of the speed events of the 1997 World Championships.

Street, the defending World Cup downhill champion and winner of two downhills this season, stopped along the track after only 20 seconds of her practice run and was seen complaining to race stewards.

However, Street said she was flagged off by race officials and did not feel responsible for the race cancellation.

``It was a decision by the jury, and team coaches and captains were behind it,'' Street said. ``The athletes did not get involved.''

She added, however, ``It was a very wise decision, a right decision.''

Barbara Merlin of Italy said most skiers were against racing Saturday.

Both Kurt Hoch of Austria, director of the women's World Cup, and Giuseppe Zunino, manager of the Sestriere organizing committee, suggested the skiers forced cancellation of the race.

``The jury took a decision,'' Hock said. ``We can't compel athletes to run.''

Zunino said the skiers' decision was unjustified and unexpected ``because they had agreed on safety of the track only one hour before the start of practice. ``I can't believe that athletes can stop a race,'' he said.

Most of the 11 skiers who preceded Street down the course missed a difficult gate following a bump, because they could not stay inside the set course.

``It was impossible not to miss that gate,'' said Canadian Kate Pace Lindsay, downhill gold medalist in the 1993 world championships. ``It was in the wrong place.''

The course was set by Jan Tischhauser of Switzerland, a member of the International Ski Federation.

Street had threatened Friday to boycott the race if safety conditions were not improved.

Street, insisting she was speaking on behalf of the other World Cup skiers, said Friday that the course was dangerous because of some soft parts and as a result of fresh snow accumulated at the sides of the track.

As she stopped along the course, Street had an irate verbal exchange with Hoch.

``I was flagged off the course after several skiers had missed the gate,'' Street said. She did not elaborate on her conversation with Hoch.

Shortly after the suspension of practice, race officials announced the cancellation.

Organizers had initially agreed on a change of course setting. But there was almost no time left for restarting practice with the race scheduled to begin at 7 a.m.

Officials expressed amazement at the cancellation as they claimed the course conditions were perfect for a rehearsal on the World Championships track.

``We feel ready for a perfect organization of the 1997 World Championships,'' Zunino said. ``Perhaps we lacked some experience in organizing downhills, but we struggled with dramatic conditions; less than an inch of fresh snow in five days and fog.''

World Cup officials did not immediately say if the race, which was to combine with a women's slalom Friday night, would be rescheduled at another venue.

The next women's downhill is scheduled at Val d'Isere, France, next weekend.

Meanwhile, the men's night slalom was held as scheduled.