The Olympics are a time of glorious competition. There will be winners. There will be losers. However, in some rare unfortunate moments, there will also be losers that should have been winners.

America's Paul Hamm was awarded the gold medal in gymnastics in 2004 because of a judicial scoring error. The medal should have gone to South Korea's Yang Tae-young instead. Two years earlier, Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier lost to Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia despite what was widely regarded as the Canadians' superior performance. In that case, the International Olympic Committee intervened after it was discovered that one of the judges was trying to fix the competition in favor of the Russian pair. All four of the skaters were ultimately awarded with gold medals.

Then you have the 1972 U.S. basketball team. Clinging to a narrow 1-point lead against the Soviet Union with three seconds left, officials put back time on the clock not once but twice -- until the Soviets emerged victorious. It outraged the U.S. team to the point that their silver medals still remain unclaimed.

Bulls, bears, and Hamms
Wall Street will never be called on to host the summer or winter Olympics. It doesn't have to, really. Why wait four years when winners and losers come together every single trading day? The finest companies all eventually ascend the tallest of podiums and bow down to accept their shiny gold medallions as their corporate anthems blare.

Who gets there, and how, is not always fair, though. Despite the lack of shady or incompetent judging, some companies that deserved the gold wind up settling for silver or bronze, or they fall off the stage altogether.

For example, when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL), they were simply two geeks toiling away in a house garage. They probably had no idea that the Apple -- and, more importantly, the Apple II -- would come to revolutionize personal computing. The Apple II became the first computer system to achieve mainstream popularity, but Apple's stay at the top was short-lived.

IBM (NYSE:IBM) came in strong and allowed Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to power the operating-system backbone of an army of IBM-compatible systems. Still, Apple was first. Ask Mac fans, and they will tell you that Apple was -- and is -- the best. But in the end, Apple was simply outnumbered. And that made matters even worse when software developers sided with quantity over quality.

One can argue that many of the gold medals in Microsoft's trophy display case were snagged off the necks of others. Was Microsoft Word really that much better than Word Perfect? Was Internet Explorer really the superior browser to Netscape?

As the gateway to personal computing -- thanks to its operating-systems-software stronghold -- Microsoft became a force to be reckoned with. It didn't merely have the ability to tack on a few extra seconds if its shot didn't go in. It owned the clock and the scoreboard, too.

Iomega (NYSE:IOM) is another company that may have been robbed along the way. In 1994, the company introduced its line of Zip disks and drives. Portable data storage at the time entailed either low-capacity floppy disks or bulky cartridge-based drives. Zip was stylish and practical. Cobalt blue never looked so good. And early investors -- many of them Fool regulars, since Iomega was the toast of the town on the site -- made out nicely.

Unfortunately, Iomega wasn't able to corner the market for too long. The rewriteable CD and, eventually, a plethora of light flash-memory-based USB drives took some of that shine off the cobalt blue. Companies like SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) became the new purveyors of portable memory, especially as flash memory moved into everything from digital cameras to iPods. The Zip had been zipped.

In a more recent case, how about XM Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:XMSR)? The company was the first to launch a satellite-radio service. It commands nearly twice as many subscribers as rival Sirius (NASDAQ:SIRI) does, and it sports greater revenues and narrower losses. However, the market is currently granting Sirius a higher market cap because Sirius managed to land the buzz and publicity that comes with legendary morning-show host Howard Stern. The odd thing, though, is that since the Stern deal was announced in October of 2004, XM has still managed to sign more subscribers at the same subscription price as Sirius. That's one of the reasons XM has been recently singled out in the Rule Breakers premium research newsletter. Satellite radio is an impressive growth industry, and both companies are likely to thrive, but XM should be commanding the higher price tag.

Earning back their borrowed gold
Nobody is painting Microsoft as much of a bully these days. The company has been forced to shell out cash in settlements and kowtow to antitrust watchdogs. Apple's re-emergence has also lent a hand to Mr. Softy's makeover. Apple is growing faster than its computer-industry peers thanks, to the halo effect attributed to its smash-hit iPod line.

But do you want to know when it dawned on me that Microsoft became an underdog again? It was when Philip Durell recommended the stock to subscribers of his Inside Value newsletter service a few months ago. Philip doesn't like overpaying with the herd. He would rather pay for a gold medalist in a bronze-medal wrapping than pay too much for Wall Street's latest favorite.

Is Microsoft now the one being robbed -- by the market? Philip seems to think so. It just goes to show you that those moments at the tallest podium can be fleeting. But there's always another competition along the way to prove that you can still get the gold.

Philip's uncanny knack for singling out the cheated has served his Inside Value readers well. His picks have averaged gains that are nearly twice as large as the market averages since the newsletter's 2004 launch. The Olympics will span the next few weeks, and so will a30-day free trialof Philip's newsletter, if that suits you.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz will enjoy the winter Olympics, though he still isn't sure whether the luge sledding is a competition or a diversion. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. T he Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.